Braunholtz: Love lessons from dogs |

Braunholtz: Love lessons from dogs

Alan Braunholtz
Vail, CO Colorado

Hopefully, Valentine’s Day left you with a substantial horde of love tokens to gorge on. Chocolate actually transcends tokenism in ways that other Valentine gifts never can. It is sinfully powerful, mimicking romantic love itself.

The cacao tree’s scientific name, Theobrama Cacao ” given by the overlooked Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus ” translates literally to “food of the gods.” A Toltec myth from the Maya civilization names the feathered serpent god Quetzalcoatl as the planter of these trees. Different, less healthy and more fun than our own snake and Garden of Eden myth.

Jewelry always seems more trouble than it’s worth – something expensive and easy to lose. Sexy underwear, while nice, looks to be more of a benefit to the giver than the recipient, and there are prettier flower arrangements than a bunch of roses.

That’s the problem with ritual tokens; they become automatic, almost a chore and an end in itself. Get the dozen roses and you’ve covered your bases and all can go on like before.

Dogs are great life coaches and do especially well on holidays. Problems with keeping your New Year’s resolution of more exercise, meeting people, savoring the moment, more love in your life, etc., are easily solved by a trip to the pound. Dogs are good diet advisors too; basically if they like it then it’s probably bad for you.

Valentine’s day is no exception. Calvin and Numu don’t really care much for tokens (unless it’s chocolate). What they want is some actual appreciation. A new toy is useless unless I’m on the other end playing with them. It’s a simple revelation, but they want me much more than a new toy. Tokens are meaningless by themselves.

Calvin is cycling down to the end of his life. Sad to watch but you sign up for an unwanted lesson in age and death with every pet you own. It’s softened by how endearing he becomes in his old age. With less time to lose, he knows what he wants and simply asks for it in such a way that I don’t mind at all. We could all take a lesson in gentle persistence from our pets ” but maybe it’s in what they ask from us, too.

No fits for the latest and coolest squeaky toy that “every dog, OK maybe only one dog” on the street has. They ask for the simple things that all of us should have: food, shelter and appreciation from his pack, which is Gayle, Numu and myself. A pack walk still means more than anything else, and he’ll linger at the door waiting for the errant adult if either Gayle or I are being too lazy or cold to come out.

Perhaps there’s a lesson there for youth to humor your elders’ desires for the occasional group activity, like mealtimes. It may not be as exciting or cool as texting your transient peers on the phone, but it will mean a lot. And your pack is, well, your pack. Then again I don’t heap too many expectations on the dogs, and even the limited ones like “not peeing in the house” or “avoid eating the couch” are negotiable. Mainly, I just love them.

A few pats, hugs and as many “good boys” as I can utter and he trots around in a shimmering breeze of happiness. People are more complex, but deep down the principles are the same. Feeling appreciated and part of her pack is all I really want from Gayle on Valentine’s or any other day.

I just have to remember to show as much thanks for this as Calvin does. It should be easier for me as I can speak, but somehow his tail, ears, eyes and nose outperform me most days. Dogs have no pride or shame where showing affection is concerned. They don’t need tokens of affection.

Alan Braunholtz of Vail writes a column for the Daily. Send comments or questions to

Support Local Journalism