What My Dog Taught Me About Friendship

 trevor

One man’s tribute to his remarkable best buddy—a four-legged not-so-fairweathered friend.

There is no doubt in my mind that Lance Corporal Jake, “The Piranha”, U.S. Puppy Corps (off-duty)* was sent to me. He entered my world just as everything in it was turning upside down. I adopted him on Valentine’s Day 2011, as a surprise gift to add a furry-celebration-of-love, to the relationship with my other half.  Just a few months later, I went through a “perfect storm” of events that ultimately left me homeless, and living in a tent, in the National Forest, with my dog.

* “Jake” for short.

♦◊♦

In rapid succession, I suffered one major loss after another. My best friend suddenly died, my long-term romantic relationship ended abruptly with the discovery of infidelity, I was fighting (and lost) an unfair eviction suit by a hostile LA slumlord systematically evading rent-control protections, the court system didn’t protect me, and the combination of stressors, logistics and personal dynamics left me with very little money and without anyone to call for help.

My ex laid down an edict forbidding me to remain friends with our former mutuals—and my decision to honor that request cut a very small platform of social support, in half.

I imagine it can be hard to fathom why many would rather live “on the streets” with their dog, than give ‘em up and go to a shelter. Once you’ve lost everything, could you really fathom giving up the one source of love, compassion, companionship that you have?

A Sherriff lockout ensued, and now we were living in a tent, at various county campgrounds, and then the forest. I’d been using my meager unemployment earnings to pay attorney fees, and fell behind on my car payment, so now not only was I alone, and broke, but there was a repo man after the only roof I had—my car. Without some very basic support to prevent it from happening, everything I owned—the contents of a 3,000 sq-ft artist’s loft and 34 years of living and memories—was sold at public auction, by a landlord that didn’t bother to give proper legal notice.

♦◊♦

Dogs are truly “in it” with us. Fully invested, fully engaged, fully present in the moment, and wholly committed. For better or for worse. It doesn’t occur to them that:

  • you are a dork pretending to be a cool person
  • they might have a better life with another master
  • they made the wrong choice when they picked you*

* Did you pick your dog, or did your dog pick you that day?

They take the good with the bad, and they simply stick around. (Once upon a time, us humans were familiar with a similar notion—it was called a “friendship”—and it didn’t start by clicking a button labeled “Add Friend.” Or, it was called “marriage”—and you only had one.)  [Dogs: 1 | Humans: 0]

It would appear naïve for me to think I’m sharing some new insight about dogs you didn’t already know, but it doesn’t mean we don’t need a reminder about its gravity. With Jake, it didn’t matter why I was in tears. It didn’t enter into his mind that I might deserve the circumstances I was in. It didn’t occur to him to withhold his love as a way to punish me for losing the roof over our heads. All that mattered was that I was experiencing anguish—and he could do something about that. Without hesitation, he’d simply lick the tears right off my eyes. [Dogs: 2 | Humans: 0]

If you don’t have any experience of homelessness, you might not know that it has many multi-faceted root causes. That discussion aside, I imagine it can be hard to fathom why many would rather live “on the streets” with their dog, than give ‘em up and go to a shelter.

Once you’ve lost everything, could you really fathom giving up the one source of love, compassion, companionship that you have? The purest form of friendship there ever was? There is great safety and comfort in knowing that LCpl. Jake would never willingly leave my side. He would never walk away from me, like almost everyone else did when it really mattered. There is deep, real power in that knowledge. An ineffable safety. [Dogs: 3 | Humans: 0]

♦◊♦

At night, on my way back up to my tent-home in the forest, as I’d drive up Angeles Crest Highway, I’d pass a close relative’s house in La Canada, and wonder how my family could be so cruel … so … vacant … of the basic decency I’d always known them to have. They were, in fact, my favorite relatives.

I knew the answer; of course. I just couldn’t seem to accept it. I was being punished and ignored for taking a loud, vocal and unpopular stand against the abuse and neglect of a disabled family member, that no one wanted to acknowledge, or be inconvenienced to face.

Withholding love, to punish, is not something my dog Jake knows how to do. Passive-aggressiveness is not something Jake knows how to do. He’s either passive or he’s aggressive—but his intent is always crystal clear. [Dogs: 4 | Humans: 0]

♦◊♦

I believe there is profound truth in the notion that dogs are here, existentially, to teach and inspire us. To model behavior for us. Behavior that, if us lowly, stupid, egotistic humans could learn to adopt more freely, could perhaps save us all from the law of entropy that plagues us today: deep trust, profound willingness towards co-operation, and generous, unconditional love … shown through actions.

It’s behavior that, if we mirrored it ourselves, we could suspend our critical inner-voices and truly deepen our bonds with the people around us. I mean that in the most earnest sense—that, quite literally, this remarkably unique relationship of co-operation that we now have with dogs—are gifts from our creator.

Heck, LCpl. Jake even models good dental hygiene for me. Every night, at bedtime, LCpl. Jake is accustomed to getting a small rawhide bone to gnaw on. In fact, it’s the only time he’s interested in a bone at all, and has no desire to sleep (or allow me to) until he’s “brushed his teeth.”

So often we frame our relationship with dogs, in a master/obedience sense. Sometimes I wonder who really oughta be packleading whom. He is a living, breathing reminder of one of my favorite touchstone theories: Occam’s Razor. (Essentially, the simplest, least-complicated answer has a high likelihood of being a really good one.) Read: If there’s a boo-boo, lick it and give it your attention.

Jake reminds me daily that I am deserving of his love, simply because I am. Simply because I exist. That alone, is enough to be deserving—whether my inner critic wants to accept it, or not. [Dogs: 5 | Humans: 0]

♦◊♦

Among the many things that I needed during my homelessness, the most essential and the most simple, was also the most rare: the gift of time and simple companionship. I couldn’t get my own “friends” to come to my campfire for s’mores on my own dime! “I’m here for you” became such a platitude. It’s a phrase I could really live without having to hear again. People were willing to throw me $20 (that I hadn’t even asked for), but not give me an hour of their time. I didn’t need their money, I needed their love. [Dogs: 6 | Humans: 0]

♦◊♦

My journey of losing everything down to my underwear drawer, was all meant to happen. Ultimately orchestrated by a loving universe, pulling me forward while I tried to push back and hold on …  to people that were manipulative and dishonest—including my own family—to places that would limit my future, and to old habits and thoughts that would stifle my growth. It was meant to catapult me into an entirely new life, with a deeper and wiser palette of colors to paint a new life with. There is a certain beauty that awaits us, perhaps …  in vibrational escrow, when we accept and release.

This “awakening” prompted a deep examination of my values and daily interpersonal interaction, and then birthed the idea for a new kind of philanthropic movement, one that Jake’s devotion to me helped inspire.

It was through his unwavering acts of empathy, that he showed me a template for why I have so much trouble trusting anyone today, or believing them when they declare us to be “friends.” I kinda roll my eyes inside, and think to myself that I hope I’m never again in a position where I have to test whether you really mean that. Whether you know what the word ‘friend’ really means.

“Friendship is a sheltering tree,” wrote Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Friendship is both a gift and a responsibility. A better word for friendship is this: it’s a covenant.

When I slowed down enough to pay attention, LCpl. Jake showed me what the baseline really is for decent behavior, and how humans are largely failing each other—because we’ve veered so far off the template, and lost our way.

When my time of need came, I quickly learned the perils of being a really honest person in an uncomfortable-with-real-truth, dishonest world. I learned that my newfound commitment to authenticity, while first repelling people from me, was ultimately a gift that took with it the toxic people I thought I should be loyal to, and made room to befriend those worth the investment.

See, LCpl. Jake may not be able capable of empathizing—it requires imaginative projection—but he is so much better at emulating empathy than most humans are currently capable of. [Dogs: 7 | Humans: 0] Our entire social and economic paradigm is, frankly, on the verge of collapse—and it’s not for the reasons you may think. It’s because our modern zeitgeist has rapidly been stripping us of our ability to empathize with someone else’s circumstances. Here’s the science and the proof.

♦◊♦

Being the handsome devil that he is, LCpl. Jake gets all the phone numbers, play-dates and wrestle-mates, not me. [Dogs: 8 | Humans: 0] I have a theory, though. There seems to be a strong correlation between having a lot of hair, and getting attractive people to pet you, and rub your belly. I’m looking into it further, fellas. I’ve already got the tail covered, but that’s another story.

Although dogs have kept their larger mission under wraps, (they are very good at keeping secrets: remember the Bush’s Baked Beans dog, Duke?), I’ve been cleared to unveil their worldwide agenda today, on the authority of LCpl. Jake. (He looks pretty serious.)

So, here it is, folks. The mission of the U.S. Puppy Corps is an awareness campaign: to practice acts of unconditional love throughout the world, via the use of copious puppy-dawg kisses. They may not be able to say “oxytocin,” but they’ve been little furry neuro-chemical catalysts for the release of this feel-good, well-being hormone since before we even knew the hormone existed. [Dogs: FTW | Humans: 0]

Go give your dog a hug, and 20 minutes of devoted playtime. He needs that more than he needs another treat. In fact, you both do.

Read more on The Good Life.

Images courtesy of the author

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About Trevor Eyster

Trevor Eyster is an actor best known to the world for his archetype-defining role of “Sponge” on the iconic 90s Nickelodeon sitcom “Salute Your Shorts.” He’s also a vocalist looking for a band in Los Angeles, an urban beekeeper, and the founder of a new micro-volunteering non-profit, called …and then, Angels descended, that seeks to end the nation’s “empathy deficit” through organized acts of empathy on Facebook. To learn more about what that means, check out this Kickstarter Project Stand in My Shoes, of which he is one of many executive producers.

Comments

  1. Bunny Hankers says:

    Great article and nice to see a kindred spirit highlighting my own thoughts. I’ve always believed empathy is one of the most important attributes a human can display, and having been in similar situations to those mentioned above, I know that feeling of supposed friends and family suddenly disappearing when their chance to prove their friendship and kinship once and for all finally comes along (and then mysteriously reappearing when everything is going well again). My five dogs have also always been far more present than any friend or family member ever was in my own battles in life.

    As a result of never being cared for myself by those who should have been there for me, I’ve purposefully spent my life caring about others, performing random acts of kindness and being there for people in any way I can be. I may not be able to control the actions of others, but I can love and be there to listen and try and find a solution. The growing lack of empathy (or ‘Enough about you, what about Me?’) as I’ve always called it, has always disturbed me. i guess as someone with real empathy for others, someone not having it at all troubles and frankly confuses me. People who lack empathy constantly ask me why I do things for which there is no obvious (to them) reward, and view me as a fool I suppose, but luckily some of us are still built this way and I hope to see your website and film unite us further.

  2. Trevor — had my own “perfect storm” with very similar results — and a dog that picked me, and literally saved my life. I did, however, find a couple of people who knew exactly what friendship was, a bit out of the blue — and I learned that kindness is more important that anything else. Glad to read you are doing better. And yes, my dog taught me several of the most important things I have learned in this life. So far.
    best wishes to you

  3. Trevor: I love this article. When I had successfully destroyed my own life thru poor choices and infidelity, it was my dog who gave me a model of how to love unselfishly, and then another dog who helped me over new hurdles. Thanks for highlighting just how very good our dogs are, and how much we owe them.

  4. Gary Rosenberg says:

    Jake and you have been so lucky to have found each other and your companionship shows strong… Whyd do you do the things you do and why are you a tremendous empathy engine (caring, feeling empathic human)? Besides that you have been there and back in many different ways, it is intrinsic to whom you are…
    Fantastic article.
    Love and ear scritches brothers (I include the LCpl in that as well),
    G

  5. Philip Wayne says:

    Truly blessed to be an old friend of Trevor’s, we both came from an industry that can elevate us but also test us and bring us to different paths in our lives. We find it is that synchronicity that brings us back creatively and you show this through your upstanding performances in your career to your passion for others be it Angel or Muse. We are like old war buddies, surviving the industry and now onward to share the joy and bring meaning to our art full circle.You show what is missing and remind us of where we need to be, our connective and collective concsiousness and just how much unconditional love is what it’s all about. What you do is nothing short of magical and brilliant, and your heart always shines beyond the mere mortal earth. Thank you for this amazing gift.

  6. “May you, and all those you love, be so blessed and fortunate to be surrounded by people who will help you get untangled from the things that are binding you. And may you always know the joy of giving and receiving gratitude.”

    As you said so well Trevor, your blessings are awaiting you in “vibrational escrow” as you now redirect your precious light-giving energy to those whom will appreciate it, and return it in kind.

    I’m also a big believer in the idea that our honesty is the highest form of gift we can offer someone. They may not see it that way – but it wasn’t your honesty that pushed them away, it was their inability to process that honesty with empathy.

    Namasté dear one. and thanks for the reminder, I have a 20 min playtime appointment I must attend to now.

  7. What a cracking article, I do believe that all animals are here to teach lessons of love and joy, I know that from my own experience.
    However keep the faith with people, some of them need a waking up yet which will happen in their own sweet time.
    What a blessing though I bet tough at times that you have learned all this stuff and it’s brought you closer to the people that now most resonate with you vibrationally, all good stuff in the end and closer to your true path in life.
    Love you brother and you don’t need to test me on that, just trust and feel x

  8. The positive responses to my piece, both in FB likes, tweets and comments above, are such an overwhelming honor for an amateur, first-time contributing writer like myself. A big sincere thank you to everyone here who’ve taken a moment to share in the conversation with your stories and encouragements.

    Seeing this piece go from a whim, to a word document, to an editor, and soon to-be-cached in Google’s archives, and the GMP library is so empowering for me.

    What happened was such a gift in disguise, and it’s such a privilege to be given an admirable platform like the GMP to share a piece of the story – with the kind of intellectual, contemplative, deeper-truth-seeking audience any writer would love to have.

    I have a second act coming… In fact, by comparison, this was more aptly the preamble. There is a *huge* layer of subtext to the root causes of my homelessness and lack of support system that are simply too large-in-scope to break open in a simple tribute piece about my beautiful dog. I’ve already started writing the next piece – and I think it’s gonna be a pretty shocking, disarming, and insightful read. I’m gonna break silences and stigmas about uncomfortable topics. And you’ll love it or you’ll hate it — but I hope you’ll be compelled to read it, nonetheless.

    Our world needs more storytellers. If you have something to say, there is someone out there that needs to hear it.
    I hope you’ll check out my non-profit at AngelsDescended.org
    Thank you, again, for your encouragement and support (and for booking puppy-playtime in your iCalendars!)

  9. A wonderful, inspiring article! I commend you for being to take the very painful experiences of your past and be able to redirect/channel them into something good and helpful to others. Most people would have taken a very different path. You (and Lance Corporal Jake) have an amazing journey ahead of you as you build what I expect will be a very successful effort to help those who desperately need help and a sign of caring. Through adversity, you’ve been given a gift—the ability to empathize and appreciate “true” friends and those close to you. I look forward to hearing about all of your successes at AngelsDescended.org. Really glad to be your friend.

  10. What an incredibly brave individual to share these intimate details with the world. A known star – knocked down – but not out – fallen – but now on the rise. What strength it takes for someone to share like this – truly inspirational. Some might run and hide – but not Trevor. Being a child actor is what some – even Trevor – might think is his top – but I don’t think he’s made his true mark yet and this is just an example of that. How exciting to have a glimpse of what’s to come now that he’s ‘out of the woods’.

    I’ve not only had the pleasure of having Trevor as a guest on my radio show but was also blessed to get know him on a personal level. I didn’t ask – he just let me in. What a gift. He is pure and honest which is completely refreshing in this day and impersonal technological age of ours. We can all learn something for him – I know I have. I urge you to go to angelsdescended.org and I hope you all hear his message loud and clear. You can also listen here…

    http://www.castlerockradio.com/ARCHIVES/ROARINGSUCCESS/RoaringSuccess_1-16-2013.mp3

    …and little bit here too…

    http://www.castlerockradio.com/ARCHIVES/ROARINGSUCCESS/RoaringSuccess_1-23-2013%20Single%20Track%20The%20Movie.mp3

    Thanks for sharing Trevor – all the best – here’s to you and Lance Corporal Jake conquering the world!

  11. Once you’ve lost everything, could you really fathom giving up the one source of love, compassion, companionship that you have?

    that the intelligence required to create civilisation arose in the human frame is indeed on the mysteries of the universe. i imagine our species is some sort of amusssing entertainment for onlooking spacefaring species – ‘tune in to find out what those whacky humans will do next on their planet, next week’.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qg4I5m8RAIs
    brave English bull terrier saving man from a bull.
    dogs are indeed noble beings (cats are like humans).
    technological intelligence should have arisen in dogs.

  12. I’m glad you were able to find comfort and solace with your dog, but I’m curious if you think you, personally, were in any way responsible for your homelessness. What bad or irresponsible decisions did you make that might have contributed to your circumstances? When I read your article I picked up a lot of anger, hostility and blaming others, but you did not take any responsibility for your situation. I find it hard to believe your being homeless was 100% others’ fault.

    • Hey Mabel! Thanks for bringing up this important point. I’m glad to discuss it, and so blessed that my article is still inspiring commentary, a year after its publish date!

      This article was written in response to the Good Men Project’s “Call for Submissions”. GMP was looking for men to write tribute pieces to their animal companions. The scope of the article is narrow, for that reason, in order to stay within the borders of the key takeaway points of the piece: The power of empathy (and the alarming deficit we face), unconditional Love, and the remarkable unsung leaders that our dogs are: in showing us the way to be more compassionate and less judgmental in the way we treat others (because by virtue of that judgment, we thereby decide to give/withhold things from others – like our love, support, companionship).

      I’m looking forward to having the time (and focus!) to write another article for the GMP, of a very different nature – about what led to the circumstances of my own homelessness (it’s actually the subject of a documentary I’m in the beginning stages of finding a producer for.) I’ve never written a freelance article before… I don’t know what section GMP would place it in, or if they’d even publish it, I’ll have to contact my new Editor.

      This would be a good moment for me to inquire deeper about your questions:

      1) Do you truly believe that homelessness can only occur to those who did something to “deserve” it? Because that’s a pretty big statement about a *huge* population in the U.S. What about those displaced by natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina? Or minors who flee their homes due to physical, mental or sexual abuse? What about the startling statistics of those whom have lost their jobs in the Great Downsizing, and have never recovered? I met plenty of the latter, living in RVs, at the various campgrounds I circulated through.

      We live very privileged American lives … so often sheltered from the harsh reality that much of the tapestry of our lives, can very quickly unravel, leaving us only a single thread to grasp onto. We take so much for granted… and think it can’t happen to us, somehow. But my article is here, on the interwebs, to be one of the growing number of voices that are here to tell you that: it can happen to ANYBODY.

      Singer/Songwriter/Peace Ambassador/AIDS Activist/GRAMMY winner/ Ms. Annie Lennox speaks about this issue very eloquently, in this video commentary, about the inspiration for her song “Dark Road”. http://www.vevo.ly/hEK4jf

      “I’m also making a comment on the fragility of life… and how, as we’re all on this journey… just with one little stroke… all of us could become so, um, on the outskirts of everything, you know, we can have loss, we can have achievement, and our lives change accordingly…” — Annie Lennox, Dark Road video, on VEVO

      2) Is our most productive action.. our highest collective good served … while someone is in crisis and unable to meet their basic needs… one in which we need to assign fault or blame? Aren’t we all deserving of love and basic human decency, regardless of anything else? Are some humans more worthy of our help than others?

      I would argue that, for example, someone with a drug addiction issue, needs MORE help, MORE of our love … not less. I would argue that someone whom had a mental illness issue, would need MORE of our assistance, not our judgment or admonishment. (I speak about that in this video: I speak about these concepts, in this video for my non-profit: https://vimeo.com/60195615 )

      These are universal concepts of the essential nature of human connectedness that I’m looking forward to facilitating opportunities to execute, in tangible ways, for others in need — through the launch of my micro-volunteering non-profit, http://www.AngelsDescended.org

      I’d love to know your thoughts on these questions I pose. I’m looking forward to telling a more in-depth story, which would be considered an “unsolicited submission” to the site, versus a piece I was encouraged to write because GMP was looking for content on inspirational stories involving our pets.

      I will say this. Yes, I could have gone to a homeless shelter — with one pretty devastating caveat: I would have had to give up my dog — to a stranger. Give up ownership of my most prized and loyal friend. With few exceptions, homeless shelters don’t take in your pet.

      If I ever end up in a situation again where I feel unsafe, or unable to sustain a roof over my head – my beautiful, precious, amazing Spirit of a dog, and myself — will head straight back up to nature, and camp under the stars. We’ll invite my friends to drive up to forest, and join me for s’mores by my campfire, under the moonlight. This journey taught me that my dog will always lead the way, and that I must follow. For my dog leads with his heart on his sleeve – and if the whole world did that, it’d be a much better place.

      It’s a beautiful gift, having that level of certainty about what matters to you.

      • Mabel – really?! Did you even read Trevor’s article? He specifically addressed the idea you proposed about homelessness being “his fault”:

        “It would appear naïve for me to think I’m sharing some new insight about dogs you didn’t already know, but it doesn’t mean we don’t need a reminder about its gravity. With Jake, it didn’t matter why I was in tears. It didn’t enter into his mind that I might deserve the circumstances I was in. It didn’t occur to him to withhold his love as a way to punish me for losing the roof over our heads. All that mattered was that I was experiencing anguish—and he could do something about that. Without hesitation, he’d simply lick the tears right off my eyes. [Dogs: 2 | Humans: 0]
        If you don’t have any experience of homelessness, you might not know that it has many multi-faceted root causes. That discussion aside, I imagine it can be hard to fathom why many would rather live “on the streets” with their dog, than give ‘em up and go to a shelter.”

        I’m honestly baffled that you could reply with such insensitivity, to a very beautiful, honest story about a man and his dog that helped him through a rough time. It’s a complete strawman argument, and completely irrelevant/derailing from the topic at hand. He came to speak about the love of his canine companion. And frankly, to ask a stranger whether they feel their homelessness was “their fault” is downright rude and invasive. I guess the anonymity of the Internet allows such behavior, but you can still have some tact.

        Mr. Evester, I applaud you on replying to this person in a mature, professional manner, because I’m frankly appalled that a wonderful article about a dog’s love can interject such a question. I guess people really do choose to find negatives in everything, even something positive.

        This was a wonderful story. I absolutely love my dog and have not a single doubt in my mind that he would be there for me in times of emotional turmoil such as this, as he already comes to cuddle and lick my face when he notices I’m vocally upset about something. Dogs are really wonderful, selfless creatures who need you just as much as you need them.

        Thank you for sharing this story. I am replying a year after it’s publish date due to the fact that GMP regularly posts even older articles from the website on their Facebook page, which might explain also why you are getting responses a year after the fact. Also, if I may interject a quick sidenote, I was a huge fan of “Salute Your Shorts” as a teenager, and it’s quite fascinating to me to see actors from my favorite shows growing up and what they end up doing later in life. I truthfully have not kept up with any others of the show’s cast, save for Michael Bower and Black Soper (Sennett). You are an excellent writer based on this piece, and I hope you continue to write for GMP.

  13. ms. information says:

    This was a beautiful piece….having lost my house..car..job..relationship and finallly my dog devasted me….I am also trying to get to a place of peace..thank you.

  14. “Go give your dog a hug, and 20 minutes of devoted playtime. He needs that more than he needs another treat. In fact, you both do.”

    Done!

    Homeless people with dogs look little better off than those without. Love and friendship is a basic human need like food and water. A study showed the area of a mother’s brain firing when presented with her child. It was the same area that fired when satisfying hunger and thirst.

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