An Ode to a Fluffy Guru

by Simon Goland, August 20, 2017

This is the one reflection I never wanted to write. How does one review 14 years of a life with such an incredible being? And yet…

I have wanted a dog for a long time, and made sure all my friends knew it. On a fairly regular basis. I also had plenty of reasons (or excuses, if you will) for why it wasn’t the right time just now. “I am in a cycling club and focused on a series of long bike rides.” “I am off traveling.” “I am starting a Masters degree,” or other variations of, “The stars are not aligned just right.” Eventually, a dear friend told me in a very direct way to either get a dog and trust that life will adjust itself, or stop talking about it altogether.

I did. I got a dog. And life has never been the same again. The name “Tobi” was ready, from a couple of years prior, when a close friend and I were “going spiritually deep,” looking at guardian angels, among various other explorations. One of mine showed up as a dog. It made sense then. Now there was a puppy to go with it, and a whole lot of learning.

There was a lot of synchronicity of how Tobi came into my life. A friend told me about labradoodles, a breed I didn’t even know existed. I found a breeder. We had a misunderstanding about costs, and I was very close to changing my mind about the whole thing. The breeder, however, had a sense that this puppy is supposed to be mine. I arranged a fundraiser among friends, where even strangers showed up with unexpected support. The breeder and, I am sure, a LOT of divine guidance, conspired to select a puppy for me. The first time I met Tobi was when I drove over 7 hours to pick him up, almost not being able to make it across the mountains because of wild snow conditions along the way.

(In the back seat of the car, coming home with me)

The way I describe the first phase of our life together is that, at the age of 41, my maternal instincts woke up. And then, went through the roof. I was overwhelmed with this new sense of responsibility, caring for this furry baby, not really knowing what to do (I was taking this new responsibility very seriously). When I switched him to raw food, his body started cleansing, and there was a period of about 8 days of him needing to go out every 2.5 hours, day and night. This tiredness only added to my overwhelm and sense of being lost and not knowing how to do my life any more.

“Lots of people talk to animals,” said Pooh. “Maybe, but… not very many listen, though,” he said. “That’s the problem,” he added.

Slowly, we settled into our new life and my overwhelm subsided. Then, the learning began. Some of it for Tobi, which allowed him being free to walk off-leash anywhere it was allowed (or not), and later becoming a therapy dog. Most of the learning, though, was for me. I have to admit that I was a slow and stubborn learner. Luckily, Tobi was infinitely patient, forgiving, and loving. He intuitively knew how to get through to me and my then-guarded heart (a result of my upbringing and essential lack of trust of anyone). Tobi made it through. He was meant to.

We played, traveled, worked, rested, and learned together. A big help was a “bible” I stumbled upon, “Bones would rain from the sky” by Suzanne Clothier. I have learned numerous lessons from this beautiful gem of a book. As I am writing this reflection, I picked up the book again, and stumbled upon the following: “A life lived in relationship with an animal has the power for make us both fully human and more fully humane. And this spills over, as a fullness of the soul inevitably does, to other relationships, weaving its magic across our entire lives.” These words resonate deeply within me now, even though it took 14 years.

As we worked, played, traveled, and spent time together, we were learning to build a relationship. I would say that I was doing most of the learning, again and again.

“Within a loving relationship, we must be willing to do the work of choosing the event of quality, aware that in each interaction, we are moving in only one of two possible directions: towards greater trust, understanding, and intensity of connection, or towards greater distance between ourselves and another.” – Suzanne Clothier

Tobi’s quiet presence was an incredible gift for me, even though it took me a while to start noticing his teachings. My own wounds, from my upbringing, were deeply rooted, powerful, and hidden from my view. With Tobi, they started surfacing…

The area of my desire for control came up very quickly with Tobi (I can see some long-time friends smiling knowingly). Trying to get a puppy to eat when he is not willing to was an interesting series of experiments, by the end of which I made a “shocking” discovery – he already knows how to eat, and will do it when he wants to. That behaviour from a 1-year young puppy had me start peeling the layers of this topic and how I used it as a mechanism in my life, as well as it’s origins.

Then there was the whole theme of anger, which I kept suppressed, buried deep down, having witnessed very unhealthy ways of it being expressed from my father. Yet, it would find it way out on an occasion, with moments of me being short-tempered with Tobi. And he, this puppy – this wise fluffy guru of mine – would simply sit and look at me, being a mirror that allowed me to see aspects of myself that I really didn’t like to see. As if saying, “Take a look at yourself now. Do you like what you are seeing?” It hurt, because I did not like myself in those moments, realizing that I am more like my father than I ever wanted to admit. These moments and years with Tobi have been instrumental to my deep healing work around the still-unresolved wounds I have carried with me from childhood.

“Learning to find the dance that is possible within a relationship is not simply a matter of hope or desire. It is a journey of a lifetime.” – Suzanne Clothier 

Then, my beloved – Alison – entered our lives. Tobi was ready, and very quickly accepted her into the pack. It took me longer (I did mention that I am slow in many areas of life), yet I eventually did too. Luckily, the timing was right, since Tobi has been preparing me to trust another human, after I learned to open up and trust him.

Thus, our collective journey began – Alison, Tobi, and me. It was beautiful, adventurous, loving, filled with many precious moments and memories. He looked like a dog and had plenty of times behaving like one. Yet, he was a whole lot more; a dear friend articulated it best when she met Tobi for the first time, “A dog who is not a dog.”

While Tobi is not necessarily the smiling type, he smiled at our wedding ceremony. A lot. In almost all the photos.

Our togetherness, however, as the 3 of us, did not last forever and Tobi started showing signs of aging and slowing down about a year ago. Arthritis started developing in his back legs. The kidneys started giving out in the Fall. A strange urinary track infection bacteria showed up this Spring, which was resistant to most antibiotics. He had a mini-stroke. The walks got shorter and resting times on the couch, longer. Sure, he would still play in water with the same excitement and enthusiasm, yet his body started failing him and these playing moments were short-lived.

Throughout all of it, he remained Tobi. Graceful, noble, with his ever-present peaceful presence. And, throughout this whole phase, I fluctuated between seeing the signs and refusing to see – and accept what they mean.

Until I could not resist and refuse any more.

Tobi joined us for another Right Livelihood Quest at the end of July of 2017, as he did for most of the ones we have been facilitating for the past 6 years. This was the first Quest he did not work, with an exception of one ceremony with one of the participants where he stepped into a role that matched the dream the participant shared with the group. He always worked on these Quests, being with people, observing, approaching them when needed, and playing in-between. In this one, he rested. I now know that he gathered all his energy to come with Alison and me on this Right Livelihood Quest and be with us.

He left us 2 days later, in his usual Tobi way – with incredible grace, nobility, peace, and completely on his own terms.

“In a world where it sometimes seems that there is never enough time, dogs remind us that now is the only moment we have – and the only one we need.” – Suzanne Clothier

He was a HUGE and integral part of my live and every aspect of it (“the two that are one,” as one friend described us), and his spirit and energy are still around, in every room. I am learning to live in an emptier life now, missing his physical presence. Everything reminds me of Tobi. Going for a walk in the neighborhood doesn’t feel right, without him beside us. Being out for a dinner and thinking that it feels strange not needing to come back and take him for a walk. Going to a beach feels nearly impossible. It appears to be a hard process that will take time. I am realizing every day how tightly and deeply love and grief are intertwined. These are also two that are one.

How long is 14 years? It feels like a lifetime, and also like a brief moment blended with many memories that passed by in a flash. It is so easy for me to slip into regret, thinking about moments where I could have done things differently with him. More open, more present, more loving. And, it was all perfect and exactly as it was meant to be.

I keep rereading this Reflection, again and again, realizing that I simply can’t adequately describe with words what Tobi has been for me in these 14 years. It is impossible. So, I have to stop. This will have to do.

“And the dogs might look back at us and softly ask, “how is it that you’ve missed the most important lesson of them all?” By example, relentlessly, willingly, and so very well, dogs show us the importance of love offered without judgment or conditions. They show us the value of being accepted as we are. And they show us, over and over again, that a life spent loving even misguided, confused, unsure human beings is a life well spent. All that our dogs might bring into our lives pales before this challenge to learn how to love each other as they love us. It is the work of a lifetime, to be sure, but we’ve chosen well when we choose to keep our cold-nosed angels at our side for the journey.” – Suzanne Clothier

One request for you, the reader. If you have met Tobi in your life and have a story to share about a moment, an experience with him, please do. Alison and I would love to know. I have a sense that others might too. Thank you.