My dog is obsessed with squirrels. I realize all dogs are, but she has taken things to a different level. She has dialed her squirrel intensity up to 11. Her walks are less about exercise and more about squirrel hunting. Her eyes continuously scan the environment looking for the flicking tail or bounding scamper of her prey. So intent is she that she remembers the location of every previous squirrel sighting so she can return to it on following days. As she approaches the sites of previous encounters her body tenses and quivers and she strains against her leash, muscles taut, ready to launch into the chase should the animal reappear.
Lately her squirrel problem has become our problem. There seems to be a somnambulatory one that likes to traverse our back fence in the middle of the night. Our sleep is often interrupted by the sound of our dogs jumping to their feet, sprinting down the hall, and bursting through the doggy door in response to the sound of the squirrel invader.
Things have escalated. We are now at SquirrelCon 4. It seems that this squirrely night walker has now taken up residence in our neighbor’s yard. As far as Sadie is concerned this is an evil that cannot stand. She is perpetually on the lookout for it, spending hours on guard duty staring through a crack in the fence. She will not rest until her furry enemy enters its final rest. The squirrel’s death is now her primary reason for living.
As I watched her watching the fence this morning I laughed at the absurdity of her doggy behavior. The squirrel was impossibly out of her reach. There was nothing she could do to get to it, yet she gave it all of her attention.
This behavior is funny in a dog, but it is tragic for people. Looking at her I thought about the hours, days and years I have similarly wasted focusing on things that were unobtainable and out of reach. I thought of the time I spent wishing my father would realize disowning me was a mistake and hoping my mom would become sober. I recalled patient behavior I could not change, professional recognition I could not gain, and relationship problems I could not solve. I had so many thoughts about so many things I couldn’t change. It seems that wasted attention is not merely a canine problem.
What is sad about futile attention is that it always has a cost. When we focus on the unobtainable we turn away from blessings that are within our reach. Time spent trying to change patients who were set in their ways is time I could have spent helping others who would have benefitted from my attention. Hours of thinking and planning on how I could get people to appreciate me are hours I could have spent in quality moments with the family and friends who already loved me and appreciated me.
How much better would all of our lives be if we learned this lesson. It is time to focus on the good we can do, the love we can share and the lives we can touch, and not on those things beyond our reach.
It is time to be smarter than my dog.
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