There are always a hundred reasons not to get the new puppy—or maybe the cat, or even the chicken. You’re not home enough during the day. You travel too much. Your life is busy enough with the other people in it, never mind adding an animal. But in his new book, Buddy: How a Rooster Made Me a Family Man, Boston Globe columnist Brian McGrory shows in vivid detail how animals, particularly his beloved golden retriever, named Harry, and a sometimes ornery rooster, Buddy, changed his life—for the better. We asked him to share five things he learned from his pets.
1. Friendship. There’s a saying in Washington that if you want a friend, get a dog. There is no guile with a great dog, no doubt about what she or he may be thinking, no worries that when you ask what he’s doing this weekend, he already has other plans. So you let it all hang out. You show them aspects of you that probably no other human will ever see, because it’s safe and it’s pure. They need your friendship, so you give everything you have, unabashedly, and soon enough, you learn you need their friendship in return—and you get it, unabashedly.
2. Patience. I wasn’t a particularly patient person before I got Harry, my first golden. Immediately, I learned that he needed my praise, my love, and, inherent in all this, my patience. When he was a puppy, he gnawed the legs to an antique desk and chewed shoes, but, hey, he’s a teething youngster. He got sick in the house, but I knew it wasn’t his fault. It’s life, a dog’s life. As Harry got older, the pace of our long walks slowed dramatically because his arthritic legs would carry him only so fast, so I just slowed down and took in the scenery. Eventually with Buddy, amid all his crowing, I accepted that he was just warning the predatory world of of his strength, just being a rooster, and when he chased me away from the women in the family, he was just trying to defend what he saw as his flock.
3. Commitment. There’s something nice and easy about going all in. These animals need you, for food, comfort, guidance, and affection, whether a dog or a cat or a rooster. You have to be home at certain times. You have to be present when you’re home, engaged with them. And the result—a wonderful relationship with a golden retriever who wants nothing more than to be constantly at your side or a rooster who pecks at the doors to be inside—is deeply and profoundly gratifying.
4. Activity. A dog gets you off the couch. He brings you out in weather that looked a lot worse from inside. He shows you mornings you wouldn’t have otherwise seen, introduces you to people you wouldn’t otherwise have met, gets you fresh air at night when you probably would have already been watching TV or in bed. The world, a dog’s world, is a much more vibrant and vital place, and many of the people I met through Harry have remained friends long after he has been gone. And Buddy, well, neighbors would stop by with bread. Cars would pull to the side of the road when they saw him in the yard. And I got more exercise than I should admit fleeing his attacks.
5. Joy. I swear this is true: A great dog makes you laugh at least a dozen times a day when you otherwise wouldn’t have. And yes, the same thing is true about a rooster. There were Harry’s ritualistic dances over a pig’s ear, always looking at me out of the corner of his eye; the way he sighed so heavily when he knew I was about to leave him alone; the way he pointed at squirrels in the park before setting off in pursuit. I could go on for a thousand pages. It was quite literally impossible to be in a bad mood around him. Likewise, my wife Pam could sit on the front porch with Buddy for an hour at a time, watching him patrol the lawn or casually chirp and bark while she fed him bits of bread. Life is simply better with animals in it. They don’t stay in our lives as long as we wish they could, but they make our days infinitely better.
Win a copy of Buddy: Tweet your favorite pet’s name to @BooksforBetter using the hashtag #BuddyGiveaway by 11/16/2012 at midnight. We’ll choose 5 lucky winners.