Spirit Leaves: Those Compassionate Canines


In the practice of law, we would cull expert testimony from a witness on the stand. The process was tri-fold: qualify the witness, elicit her testimony, and offer it in support of elements of the case. I’m no longer an attorney, having made a career shift into writer-teacher-spiritual aspirant. Therefore, I begin this article with a disqualification: I’m not really a dog person. My stories about dogs are scant, and I’m not certain I can make a credible case for dogs and the soul.

Why read my words, under these circumstances? The answer is simple: as writer-teacher-spiritual aspirant, it’s my penchant to offer eloquent opinions on absolutely everything.

What characterizes the particular breed of humans we call “dog people?” My mind’s amphitheater instantly projects imagery: I see a leggy, suntanned girl running on the beach with her retriever. Next there’s the oversized head of an English bulldog gently lapping the cheek of a round-faced, giggling baby boy. Ultimately, a 6’3″ Mandan Native — Cedric Red Feather’s Uncle Bob — appears in a leather recliner, his adorable pocket-sized dachshund tucked cozily under his left arm. Surely these are dog people.

Various writers attest to dogs’ spiritual significance. Most emphasize their intense loyalty, and this is true. What they often miss — what they don’t get — is what great role models they make. Dogs have much to teach about love, selflessness, relationships, and understanding. People often overlook that about dogs: we’re too busy petting them and giving them treats to realize these wise helpers are like little Buddhas who live to serve others.

Dogs understand love innately. They’re not like us: we think we own one another. We’re possessive in our loving. When partners turn their attention to others, we feel abandoned, deprived, jealous. Dogs, on the other hand, have enough love to go around. They’re 100 percent focused while snuggling with you — until another human steps in, and they swiftly cozy in with the new person to be stroked and petted.

Dogs can shift their focus completely to others. They possess an innate ability to be selfless. When we’re sick in bed, feeling miserable, a dog will come and spoon right in with us, whether or not we’re contagious. He’ll stay the course, completely attentive to our emotional needs. He’s there when we close our eyes, and he’s there looking up at us with winsome earnestness when we awaken.

Canines instantly form deep bonds with people. We were unwinding in my Topanga Canyon, Calif., cabin one afternoon with our friend Lorrie and our dog, Frege. He was a renegade German Shepherd, named for an obscure mathematician. It was early afternoon, and Lorrie was fatigued from her workout. She lay on the bed underneath the loft space, and Frege soon joined her. She wrapped her arm around the dog, and he sighed gently. Lorrie sighed back at him, “Oh, Frege. If you were a man, I’d be very happy.” It was so funny, but the bond between the two was indescribably telepathic and sweet, truly a match made in heaven.

What is most impressive about dogs is their level of perception and understanding. We read about heroic rescues by these beloved animals, and we wonder: how did they know what to do? Human responders need hours of training to perform effectively under pressure. Dogs seem to size up a situation instantly. They respond quickly and appropriately in a crisis. It’s not “innate” or “instinctive,” as we dismissively assume. Dogs are the ultimate kings and queens of hypervigilance. Nothing eludes their gaze, and everything is worthy of their attention.

It should not surprise us the great lengths to which people are willing to go to sustain and enhance the life of their dogs. When we shift from regarding them as “pets” to thinking of them as companions, we will take even better care of them. They deserve light, life, warmth, water, and tasty food. They should have a comfortable bed, and lots of space in which to run safely and play with their large collection of toys. In light of everything dogs have offered us through the centuries, don’t we wish to give them all the best in return?

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Janet Michele Red Feather, J.D., M.A., is a ceremonial singer who has learned over 60 traditional songs in Mandan and Lakota and sings in nine different languages. Janet was a full-time defense litigator in California for nearly eight years. Her life changed significantly after she traveled to North Dakota in 1993 to fast and pray for a way of life. A regular columnist for The Edge, she has also appeared in Psychic Guidepost, FATE Magazine and Species Link. Her book, Song of the Wind (2014, Galde Press), dealt with her experiences as an empath, and her journey through Mandan spiritual culture. She is currently a full-time, tenured English faculty member at Normandale Community College, having taught Composition and Literature for a span of 20 years.


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