Zen and the Art of Being a Three-legged Dog

Daily Camera

By Clay Evans
Sunday, February 1, 2009

The ticker tape of dread, of panic and worry, clicks mercilessly through my brain, day and night. Not every moment, but it’s always there, though at times it’s just a faint whirring.

The economy is in tatters, the curiously serene and cheery hosts on National Public Radio tell me each morning.

Another 70,000 jobs lost.


The flow of credit has turned to cement. Hardened cement.

House prices have plunged precipitously. Nobody’s buying, nobody can sell. Realtors and mortgage brokers and bankers ponder shrinking bank accounts.

Restaurants close, because everyone’s afraid there’s worse ahead — layoffs, foreclosure and in worst-case nightmares, life in a soup line or under a bridge. We’re all cooking at home, saving pennies.

Across the globe, every nation feels the pinch, fearing it may become a vise. There is less aid money to help the miserable. At home, nonprofits that depend on the generosity of the public wonder how they will be able to house the poor, feed the hungry, heal the sick if this goes on.


In the heart of Africa, new atrocities arise, it seems, on a daily basis. Rape, slaughter, bloodshed.

In the Middle East, sworn enemies launch rockets and drop bombs on each other, fierce in their seeming determination to destroy each other.

Great American industries, from once titanic auto makers to storied newspapers to publishers that once published the nation’s greatest authors ponder their own demise.

Tick. Tick. Tick. The sound can be deafening, if you are the kind of person to hear it. It is fear of what may be, of suffering not yet experienced.


She surges through the clinic door, hopping awkwardly on three legs, wiggling as hard as a fish thrashing on the dock, desperate to leave this place — where she has left one of the legs that served her so well for six years. A leg that helped her run perhaps 7,000 miles, allowed her to chase rabbits that she would never, ever catch.

“Are you ready to go home?” we say, knowing the answer.

Even on three legs, this dog of ours pulls like a draft horse toward the door, eager to quit this place. She likes the doctors and vet techs well enough; she’ll wag for them, too. But she smells home.

Lily whines as we complete paperwork, pay the bill, hear the instructions for her care as she recovers from the amputation of a front leg to rid her athletic body of cancer. She hurts, we know — it’s a big incision, lots of staples — but more than anything, she just wants to go home.

We think we’ll have to lift her into the back seat, but she’s having none of that. Up she goes. Maybe she thinks she’s going out to the Sage-Eagle trailhead for a run. She’d go, of course, though she’s not ready.

“Who’s a good girl?” we ask; that ridiculous question so often uttered by smitten pet lovers that even The Onion has poked fun at it.

Once home, she is … home. The other dogs poke a nose at her, notice the strange scent of bandages, and go back to being the unruly crew they are. Lily is going to have to learn how to navigate slippery floors and steps with confidence, but 24 hours after losing a leg, she’s already getting the hang of it.

She wants to eat. She wants to drink. She wants to go outside. In short, she knows something is different, that something hurts. But this is life, now. In a couple weeks, she’ll be a pro. In six months, maybe sooner, she’ll run again.

Lily doesn’t listen to NPR. She doesn’t read newspapers. She doesn’t know the economy has tanked. She’s doesn’t hear the ticker tape in her head. Like any dog, she’d make a pretty good Buddhist, doggedly living in the present.

Three legs? Well, it’s what is. Now, where’s dinner?

And for a few blessed minutes, even hours, our ticker tapes stop clicking. Every second in Lily’s presence is filled with love and compassion, the often-forgotten joy of serving someone else (even if she’s “only a dog” ).

My ticker tape isn’t silenced forever. And we know, we know: dogs are not people. But that doesn’t mean they don’t have something to teach us.

So thanks, Lily (aka Willie, Phyllis and now, of course, Tripawd) for the lesson. Thanks for pausing the tape and reminding us of what really matters.

And when you’re ready, let’s go for a run.

E-mail: claybonnyman@yahoo.com

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