6 Things a Stray Dog Taught me about Life

In a world where everyone has something to say about how to live our lives, a stray dog taught me some invaluable lessons.

Advice is relentless

Throughout life we’re all bombarded with advice and opinion on how to live our lives. In our early years this information usually comes from our parents and we assume that they know everything. Then as teenagers we rebel, and assume they know nothing. Our role models change and a lot of teenagers gravitate towards Instagram and YouTube for their advice and inspiration.

We grow up admiring and respecting what certain people can teach us, be it from teachers, rap stars, sports stars, bloggers, entrepreneurs etc. There is so much opinion coming from all angles that it’s hard to know the good from the bad. We’re told how to become wealthier, healthier, happier, and like baby birds sat in the nest with their beaks open, we eagerly ingest as much information as we can in the hope for a better life.

I’m no different to anyone else, I read Medium articles from self-appointed gurus all telling me how my life will improve if I read their articles, and indeed a lot of what they say seems to make sense and inspires me to try to become a better version of myself.

But a chance meeting with a stray dog showed me that we’re probably capable of being happy without being bombarded with all this advice.

Meet Cujo

In December 2020 my girlfriend and I went to Turkey for a chillout. Life for me had been incredibly stressful the previous few months. I’d given up my job to try and start my own business in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic. Yes, I know, smart move. But on top of that I’d been suffering with what I believe to be Long-Term Covid.

Early on during the trip we went for a midnight stroll from the hotel to the beach about half a mile away. It was down an unlit path and when we were walking back to the hotel we heard a loud barking in front of us. We jokingly said that it was Cujo. Suddenly a somewhat not small dog appeared in front of us, still barking.

A part of me was scared; this was a stray Turkish dog, he might have rabies or be aggressive. The instinct was one of fear, and to run. But for some inexplicable reason I stupidly approached him offering a friendly hand. The barking stopped and the licking started. He then trotted behind us and followed us back to the hotel.

We spotted him again the next day, he was hanging around the swimming pool area, so we sneaked meat out of the restaurant and fed him. From then on, we were inseparable and Cujo spent most of his time sunbathing with us, and we would sneak food out of the restaurant for him. The hotel staff confirmed he was a stray, he didn’t belong to them, and my heart melted, feeling sorry for him.

However, as the days went on I came to realise that Cujo didn’t feel sorry for himself, and in watching him, I came to understand a few things.

The 6 Lessons I Learned from Cujo

1. Don’t stress over the small things

Cujo is thin and never knows where his next meal is coming from. He didn’t know that we would arrive and feed him; he probably didn’t get fed too often. But he didn’t run around fretting all the time. Instead, he was content to roam about his territory, and spent a lot of his time laying in the sun. He seemed content. As humans we spend a lot of time stressing about money, bills, rent etc and whilst that’s understandable, very few of us will truly go hungry.

2. Don’t focus solely on making money

Many people spend a great deal of their time trying to accumulate as much wealth as possible. Indeed, that seems to be one of the main objectives in life; to become rich. Cujo has less than nothing but seems so happy with his life. He doesn’t have any desire for money, he simply lives in the moment. He doesn’t care for status or power, he just wants to make friends, lay in the sun, play, and eat his food. I’m not saying that’s what all of us should do, humans are more complex than dogs for sure. But considering that when we die, we will take as much of our wealth into the next life as Cujo, it does seem like madness that we devote so much time to the pursuit of making money when we all die with nothing.

3. Spend more time doing the things you enjoy

Cujo lives in the moment, and whilst you can’t do that all of the time, you can certainly do more of it more often. We put work above all else much of the time, but when you look back upon your life, will you truly be glad you sacrificed so much of your free time to the pursuit of wealth? How much time was lost that could have been spent doing other things; time with your family, time reading, socialising, or exercising? Dogs do what they want to do at that moment in time and seem all the happier for it.

4. Don’t worry about image

Cujo was a handsome dog, but you can bet your life he didn’t worry what he looked like in the mirror. He didn’t feel he had to portray himself a certain way on Instagram to be accepted by other dogs, and he didn’t worry about whether he had the latest designer collar. As humans, we seem obsessed with image. We take selfies, post our best life on social media, and decide that we need Porsches over Fords to drive around in. But why this obsession with our own image? Does anybody really care? When we think of our friends, do we like them because they looked good in a photo on Instagram? Absolutely not, we like them because of the type of person they are, and how much we enjoy their company. Your best friend is more than likely not a millionaire and you like them regardless of their image. So stop worrying so much about yours.

5. Be positive, curious and make new friends

Cujo probably had reason to be fearful of humans. Stray dogs aren’t treated too well in Turkey, and Cujo had wounds on his leg and head that could have been caused by a human. But he didn’t hold a grudge against us. Although cautious around people, he still sought them out, and in doing so despite probably being hit a few times, he was sometimes rewarded with affection and food. A lot of people, especially as they get older tend to stick within their friendship bubbles, and become suspicious of people who are different to them. Life is far richer and more rewarding when you seek out new adventures and try to meet new people.

6. Live simply

As humans, we sometimes have a tendency to take on too much. We don’t say no to people enough and burden ourselves with tasks and commitments. We are persistently flooded with information from everywhere via all mediums; TV, phones, tablets, laptops, watches. We sometimes have conversations with people whilst watching the TV and looking at our social media at the same time, not really present and engaged in any one thing. We seek advice from everywhere about how to live better lives, and yet depression is endemic in our society.

Watching Cujo, he did one thing at a time and each thing he did he was totally present in the moment. If he was eating, that’s all he was doing. Whilst we’re smarter than dogs, for most of our history we’ve led simpler lives, and it’s only in recent times we’re so inundated with so much media and complexity in our lives. Whilst we can’t escape modern society, we can choose to do just one thing at a time and simplify our lives as much as possible.

Did I abandon Cujo?

There was a temptation to want to help Cujo beyond bringing him meat from the restaurant each day. I posted about him on social media while I was on holiday, and a lot of people back home suggested trying to bring him back.

I started to wonder if this might be possible, but as the holiday progressed and the more I watched Cujo, the more I realised that I was judging his happiness based on the fact he had no owners to provide for him. But in actual fact, Cujo didn’t need pampering or looking after. He was living his own life on his terms and he seemed content and happy, which is more than a lot of people can say with infinitely more wealth than the dog.

Cujo enjoys water from the river near the hotel, food from wherever he can get it, and the warm sun on his fur. For him that’s enough to be happy. So I decided to leave him to what he was used to rather than trying to second guess whether uprooting him and moving him abroad would make him any happier. I strongly suspect it wouldn’t. And I also hoped that by leaving him where he is, other people who stay at the hotel will see him, and perhaps this happy animal can teach them a few things about life too.

47 years old and still learning. Taking one day at a time.

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