Vail Daily column: Lessons learned from Hoot
When we adopted our dog, he was skinny and riddled with heart worms. In fact he was so emaciated that the veterinarian told us we could not administer the “heart worm” medicine until he gained 10 to 15 pounds.
This poor creature had been abandoned in one of American’s great cities, had run wild for probably eight months, eating whatever trash he could find, sleeping on the streets, and wandering through the industrial traffic of an American city. When the dog pound brought him in, they called the local rescue group to come pick him up for adoption. The rescue group said they would send someone over soon, but their volunteers were too busy and forgot. Ten days later, the pound called again and said “pick him up” or they would otherwise have to euthanize this little creature. He was finally picked up within a day of being euthanized. What are the chances in life?
Anyway, he was next posted online for adoption, and rather quickly chosen by some city dweller. But the city dweller was also too busy and failed to pick him up. My wife then made a wrong turn in this big American city and got as lost as that poor little emaciated dog. She went in to ask directions. The dog — we named him Hoot — was sitting up front waiting again to be picked up by someone who again was too busy, and he ended up attracting my wife’s attention and got adopted then and there by her. What are the chances in life?
It was a thousand miles from that big American city to our little Vail Valley, and it was two months before Hoot had gained the 10 pounds of weight so that we could administer the heart worm medicine. But every day we would take this skinny creature out walking in our beautiful mountains, and there was something odd and incongruent with Hoot’s behavior. This dog was not cowered and withdrawn. This dog was not aggressive or angry. This dog was not abandoned and running wild. He may have been awfully skinny, but he was full of a wonderful and sweet zest for life. His abandonment, his living on the street, his starvation, his loneliness, none of these deprivations had robbed him of his youthful love of life. He jumped, and played, would run away and then run back gently body-bouncing against me, kicking and squealing. This dog loved every breath he took. And this dog taught me something. This poor starving innocent creature taught me one of the most important lessons of life: Carpe diem. Life is a precious joy.
Within a few months, Hoot was completely assimilated within our family (or was it the other way around?). Breakfast with heart worm medicine, a short walk and then some playtime on the big carpet. One of Hoot’s idiosyncrasies was his dry-carpet swimming. We did not have a swimming pool, and had never taken Hoot to a river or ocean, but he loved to practice swimming — backstroke swimming. He would lie on that big shaggy carpet, roll over onto his back, and start kicking up into the air with all four paws. It was swimming — definitely backstroke. Then he would take a nap until we went shopping because shopping meant he could ride in the car, sticking his head out the window, looking at the wide world, with his wide-open eyes. Later we would go on an afternoon hike into the beauty of Vail’s backcountry. Hoot always led the way, but never got out of sight. He’d play with any and all other dogs encountered on the trails, and he befriended any and all two-legged creatures also. This was a dog who loved every smell, every bush and every shadow. He found snow to be soft; he found sticker burrs to be engaging; he found vistas to be stared at. And he always seemed to be saying: “Look at this!” “Smell this!” “Taste this!” “This is fun. This is life.” This dumb creature became my role model. My MBA from the University of Colorado taught me about the workings and complexities of man, but that dog taught me about the marvelous simplicities of enjoying life — every smell, every vision, every day, every minute.
The years passed quickly and fully, and then it was over. Why is it over so soon? Why is their lifespan so short? Why is Hoot gone to another dimension, abandoning me to this big empty shag carpet?
I know what to do. I’m going down to the recreation center, to go swimming — backstroke, of course.
Pete Thompson lives in Vail, is a part-time instructor for Colorado Mountain College and Vail Resorts, and is a member of the local veterans’ organization.