40 Mile-an-Hour Greyhound, Prize Winning Athlete, and Canine Incarnation of Buddha Himself, Dies in Houston, Texas
Whisper, my fourteen-year-old friend and canine-other for the last nine years, died this morning in my hands (September 2008).
I’m reminded, as I often am when an animal friend dies, of a story by a small town vet:
Belker was a ten year old Blue Heeler, much loved by his owners and their four year old son. Belker had cancer and there was no miracle to save him. The local vet made arrangements to come to their home and euthanize Belker.
The owners wanted Shane, their son, to witness putting Belker to sleep. Maybe he could learn something.
Shane seemed so calm, petting the old dog for the last time, that they wondered if he understood what was going on. Within a few minutes, Belker slipped peacefully away. The little boy seemed to accept Belker’s death without any difficulty or confusion. They sat together for awhile, wondering aloud about the sad fact that animal lives are shorter than human lives.
Shane, who had been listening quietly piped up, “I know why.”
Startled, they all turned to him. What came out of his mouth next stunned them – They’d never heard a more comforting explanation.
Shane said, “Everybody is born so that they can learn how to live a good life – like loving everybody and being nice, right?” The four-year-old continued, “Well, animals already know how to do that, so they don’t have to stay as long.”
Whisper had mastered “Loving everybody and being nice” long before I met him. He was his name sake, quiet as a Whisper. I can count on two hands the times I heard him bark. But he could give a look that spoke a thousand barks, and launched more than one trip to the dog house for me. He was dignity incarnate, a bit timid, and wise beyond knowing. I and everyone who knew him–loved him.
The voice told me to adopt a greyhound. I sometimes get messages inside my head. Shocked at the directive to adopt a dog (at the time I thought of my self as a cat person), I found myself at Greyhound Pets of America Houston looking for a retired racer. I’d already seen several beautiful dogs I liked, when I asked to meet five-year-old Whisper. Immediately out of his cage–he ran lickety-split down the long row of the kennels to throw his lanky black body up to look out a port-hole window. A minute later he turned and ran full speed right at me; hurled his front paws to my shoulders and looked me in the eye. I knew Whisper was a sign from the gods and, that day, we became a family.
During our long walks up and down prestigious North and South Boulevards, people stopped to admire his elegant good looks: dark black fur with a blazing white star on his chest, short white socks on his feet, and a soft white tip to his whipping long tail. In winter we’d tromp through Herman Park, where he strutted-his-stuff in a black fleece jacket and long black leash. Whisper stopped traffic everywhere we went.
He was his most handsome when he met a new dog friend. He’d stand stock still, chest held high. His long ears pointing straight up and his equally long tail arching back and up. What a striking, handsome dog he was.
Whisper was soon going to work with me. He’d curl up on his bed in the corner of my massage room. Some clients came to see him as much as me. He was so serene, still and quiet. I called him my Buddha dog. Peace just seemed to flow from him. When I was agitated, he’d nuzzle me with his cold long snout and remind me to pet him…and to chill.
Whisper’s greatest gift to me was his knack for just being. When I took the time to study him I was impressed by how easy it was for him to BE his true self. A dog that walked, ran, and slept when he wanted to; a friend who showed kindness and care when I needed it most; a being who demanded I tear my focus away from my selfish-self and pay attention to something, anything else—HIM, usually. He taught me responsibility—the basic art of doing what needed to be done. Walk him. Feed him. Love him. Even when my ego preferred to indulge my self-absorption, Whisper taught me, “It’s not all about me. It’s about all of us, other people, our animal friends, and the sky/earth song around us.”
My first Koan, the Japanese Zen cosmic riddle, asks, “Does a dog have Buddha nature?” My mind will never grasp the answer. But my Big Heart just has to remember Whisper, a master of being his true/unique self, to know, “Yes!” Dogs, as all things, have Buddha nature. Being (Wu) is being. It’s everywhere I am conscious. Every time I’m BEING my true self, I’m Whisper, I’m Big Mind, I’m Buddha nature.
Whisper’s legs had gotten shaky and his hips pretty weak these last few years. He’d already lived a couple of years past the life expectancy for a big dog and a retired racer. I like to think all those years of sleeping at the foot of my massage table, or curled up next to me while we meditated, kept him healthy and whole.
Yesterday he slipped in the kitchen and he couldn’t get up. His back legs wouldn’t hold him. Jim, my husband, and I had to carry him outside. He’d walk a few tottering steps, stop, and cautiously move on, or fall down…there was no way to know. I spent a lot of the night (and morning) on the floor next to him. I held him, petted him, and thanked him for all the many gifts of friendship he’d given me.
At the vet’s Whisper seemed serene to his fate. There was nothing else to be done for him. Leg shaved and the port in place he rested, alert, head up, ears at attention, eyes wise and comforting. I held his long snout in my palms as Dr. Michelle pumped the gentle death into his vein. He gave us each a last look, closed his eyes, and died. Moments later I let his head rest on the pallet. In death he looked elegant, as always; he had a gorgeous way of curling up, his long body a graceful line, his ears surprisingly still at attention.
Whisper had one more gift for me. I felt the shell I’ve carefully constructed to protect my Big Heart, breaking open—wide open. As I surrendered to the immensity of our friendship together, I cried. I trusted the pain I felt just as I trusted my opening heart.
He was true and giving, as always, up to his very end. Thank you, Whisper, my teacher, my Buddha friend.