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Teaching a Bad Dog New Tricks
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Teaching a Bad Dog New Tricks

Teaching a Bad Dog New Tricks

Teaching a Bad Dog New Tricks
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  • Transcript
Duncan, a chocolate Labrador, sits on top of his owner, David Buetow.

Before he met his chocolate Labrador, Duncan, trial attorney David Buetow was a lifelong bachelor. Buetow is now engaged to his girlfriend, Carrie. The three of them live together on Chicago's north side, where Buetow and Duncan frequently run. Photo Courtesy of David Buetow hide caption

toggle caption Photo Courtesy of David Buetow

I believe in my dog.

I believe in the way he lives his life, and I try to emulate him. I strive to gain his level of happiness in the simplest of things. Like the way he approaches each meal with endless appreciation and even joy. While I struggle to decide what to eat from full cupboards and lament what I don't have, he circles the floor, excitedly anticipating the very same meal, in the very same portion, at the very same time every day.

I believe in how he lives in the present. As my day fills with stress, crowded commutes and endless deadlines, I think of Duncan home alone. His day was probably boring, but he's ready to move right past it once we're together.

I believe in his egalitarian treatment of everyone despite race, creed or appearance. He never pre-judges. Before I had him, I considered myself "street smart," avoiding eye contact with people I didn't know or didn't think I wanted to know. Running through Chicago neighborhoods with Duncan has changed all that. Now when people smile at us, I smile back, and if Duncan stops to say hello I stop and greet them, too.

I never had a dog before; I got Duncan at the urging of a friend who had probably grown as tired of my bachelor behavior as I had. My long work nights and weekends always ended with a lonely run, a bourbon or two, or a phone call to someone I didn't really listen to. All I talked about was me and what was wrong with my life. My friends stopped asking me out because I was always either at work or talking about work.

I had dates with women who would mistakenly think I was loyal to them but I never returned their calls or thanked them for the cookies they left on my doorstep. I was what some people would call "a dog" — a bad dog. Not one person depended on me, nor I upon them. One Sunday I woke up at noon, and I suddenly noticed how silent my house and my life was. I realized I couldn't expect any valued relationship until I created one first. So I got Duncan.

All of a sudden, where no one depended on me, he did. It was extreme detox from selfishness: Let me out. Feed me. Clean up after me. Watch me sleep. I found that I actually liked being relied upon. When I realized that I could meet his needs, I also realized he met mine.

I believe in the nobility of Duncan's loyalty, and his enthusiasm. Every time I come in the door, he's waiting to greet me with glee.

Now, when my girlfriend comes over, I get up and run to the door to greet her like I learned to do from my dog.

Independently produced for Weekend Edition Sunday by Jay Allison and Dan Gediman with John Gregory and Viki Merrick.

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