10 Things I Learned from the Cutest Dog in the World (Or at Least in the Greater Toronto Area) / by Jennifer Chan


Meet Barney.

He’s a blind, mostly deaf, chocolate cockapoo. He also suffers from a thyroid condition. Oh, and he’s also a Hurricane Harvey survivor.

For those of you who are not absolutely horrible with geography, yes, I somehow wound up with a dog from Houston, Texas.

Barney is an interesting fellow. He, obviously, doesn’t like the snow, and prefers warmer climates. He is shocked that there’s universal healthcare in this country (although he doesn’t benefit from any of it and considers that discrimination). He doesn’t have a problem with people owning guns - in fact, he thinks it’s a fundamental right. He also recently conveyed to me that he doesn’t support Trump, but was initially wary about being adopted by two mothers. Growing up, that just wasn’t the norm. I told him that I understood. We’re still figuring things out.

Luckily, despite our differences, he’s grown comfortable in his new forever home in Toronto. And as much as he’s learned new things about me, I’ve also learned a few things about him. Not just what he likes and doesn't like, but also about the bigger things: life, money, and happiness. Here are some off the top of my head.

Set yourself up for success by establishing a flexible daily routine. If Barney could talk, other than the four different barks, whines and pants he uses, he would tell you that it’s important to set specific times as to when you: wake up, eat your meals, tend to your work and personal affairs and sleep. While this may give or take an hour depending on the day’s needs, the order of these tasks remain the same. By creating a structure, you eliminate the stress of ‘crap, I forgot to do this!’ Barney, for example, never misses a self-grooming session or a bathroom break, and this makes the mechanics of his day a lot smoother.

Never judge how someone else lives. I used to visit the homes of people who had multiple pets or children and think to myself, “God, I could never live this way. It’s havoc.” Now, I completely understand the meaning of survival. During Barney’s first week home, there were dried paw prints everywhere, nose nudges (at knee level) on the mirrors and the slight smell of water & vinegar permeating through the apartment (we would spray this as part of our clean-up after his few bathroom accidents). We were aware of the state of our apartment. We just had a hundred more pressing issues.

If you want to develop a connection with someone, meet them where they are. If I want Barney to respect me, I have to convey leadership in a way that he understands. If I want Barney to cuddle me, I have to convey affection in a way that is non-threatening. I can’t demand or expect that he will interpret these actions the same way that I do. I have to speak his language. This can be applied to person-to-person interactions. If I want to build a meaningful relationship with a client, co-worker or reader, I have to get on their level and make something relatable.

Regular walks provide a time of calm joy and deep contemplation. I walk to think, be inspired and recharge my figurative batteries. Walking may not burn as many calories as a high-impact activity, but I would argue that the mental benefits are equivalent. I use that time to listen to podcasts, observe the interactions of people and animals around me, and to appreciate the beauty of nature. Barney uses this time to go to the bathroom, explore the different scents and vibrations, as well as to clear his mind from the worries he left behind in the apartment. Just like dogs, humans need to go for a walk every day.

The best things in life are free… but maintaining them costs money. The unconditional love that I receive from Barney is free. But keeping him alive and comfortable is expensive. When he first came home, he had crippling anxiety. He paced constantly. What we thought was normal, ended up being not at all. We bought him an anxiety shirt, herbal relaxation medicine, and a comforting pheromone spray. We also invested in a one-time session with a trainer who fostered several dogs from the organization that we adopted Barney from. His going rate was $125/hour. Was all of this worth it? Yes. But it came with a hefty price tag.

Self-pity is for losers. When the trainer came to our apartment, I remember telling him that we didn't try crating Barney because he wasn't crated in his foster home and we were worried that he may have had past trauma associated with confined spaces. You know what the trainer told us? “He’s not fucking thinking about that. He’s not like you or me. He doesn’t think about the past. He doesn’t even remember Texas. He thinks in the now. He’s thinking about all the cool shit he gets here and how can he get more of it. He doesn’t have the capacity to be jaded. After his eye surgeries, it most likely took him a few weeks to recover and then he just got used to it. He adapted.” Touche.

Sleep is important. No matter how much shit is on your to-do list (sometimes literally - in Barney’s case), you have to make time to sleep. Not five or six hours. But seven or eight. Every single day. In the first week, it was impossible for Barney to sleep through the night. During the first few nights, we were patient and supportive. By the fifth night, we were delirious and cried out loud, 'Barney, why are you punishing us!' (he didn't respond). Like many things, you don't know what you have until it's gone. Sleep was one of them. Trust me, you will not be your best - or even mediocre - self unless you get some shut-eye.

The key to happiness is having fewer wants. Barney is, by definition, a 'minimalist.' He owns two t-shirts, one sweater and one jacket. He owns three bones, none of which he cares for and is planning on donating, as well as one stuffed animal named 'Dumbo.' He also has one dog bed and one crate. In terms of things that make him happy, it's these particular items, as well as food, water, cuddles and, occasionally, treats. He doesn't have much. Doesn't need much. And he likes it that way.

No one is an island. All of us depend on others. Make sure that we show gratitude for our support networks on a regular basis. Whether that's picking up the bill when you're out at lunch, checking up on them when they're having a bad day, or licking their knee for ten minutes while you're relaxing on the couch (this one was suggested by Barney).

Get off your device. Live in the present. There is nothing like the adoption of a new furry son, daughter or non-binary four-legged animal to make you see that all the Likes, hearts, follows, re-tweets and other social media notifications don’t fucking matter. Those people don’t care if you’ve had a bad day. Or that you just woke up from a terrifying nightmare. Or that you’re feeling lost or anxious about your career. The people and animals you interact with in-person on a regular basis do.

Since we got Barney, my girlfriend and I made the decision (partly because Barney has food aggression that stems from a scarcity mindset) to eat at the kitchen counter, across from each other, without our cell-phones, and just focus on being present with each other. No more eating while watching television. No more eating together - but separately - while we numbingly scroll through our social media profiles. Just pure, focused attention on what’s before us. We also experience this with Barney. We watch less TV and instead find amusement watching him live his best life. Like when he playfully rolls around on the couch. Or licks our legs or arms in weird places for ten straight minutes. Or runs carefree in the park. It takes us back to a simpler time. If Barney is the signal, the rest of the other stuff we filled our free time with is the noise.

I’m not saying that we still don’t scroll through social media. Because we do. Or that we no longer watch horrible reality TV. Because we do that too. But it’s much less. And it’s really only when we’re not tending to our dog or rabbit or each other. And I find that… awesome.

So, anyways, I could go on, but I think I’ll stop here.

Having a dog is expensive, exhausting and anxiety-inducing. But it’s also playful, rewarding and filled with love. I honestly believe that there’s a ‘Barney’ for every single person out there. If you have the means, I recommend opening up your wallet, heart and home, and going out and finding yours.