The Tribe

For anyone who has suffered the loss of a beloved dog.

We are the tribe of dead dogs and we will all come back, each one of us. So don’t worry. Here’s how it works. We’re each given an assignment by the Grand Mama Hound, who sometimes appears as a cat or a squirrel because she thinks she’s funny. When it’s time for us to come back to earth, she’ll give us a little slip of paper and then we sniff it, lick it, and eat it (of course) and as soon as we swallow, we’re being squeezed out of a mama dog somewhere in some basket or cardboard box or laundry room or alleyway. We remember the Grand Mama Hound—it’s not like our memory is erased. We know where we’re headed, and we know why.

We love coming back to the land of growing things. You don’t know how good your plants are. Not everyplace has plants that grow and move and smell the way yours do on earth. Each time we pee on one it’s an act of gratitude, you know.

After we swallow our paper we know most everything about the human we are meant to find: The widowed old lady who doesn’t go outside enough. The twenty-two year old woman who won’t stop crying. The little boy who is so lonely he hits people. We know where we’re going, and if we don’t try to find our way there, we will find our way there. If we just work on growing and suckling and figuring out our paws, we’ll be fine.

The problems happen when we get so desperate to help our person right now, right away, that we force things. Those are the dogs that end up lost or strayed or at the pound. We try so hard to find our person that we lose them. Sometimes our person will show up at the shelter. You humans should know that when you walk into a shelter and there’s one dog in a cage barking her head off, spinning in circles, stepping in her own feces, acting like a nincompoop, that’s one of us less enlightened ones trying to tell you that we found you. It takes most of us a few crummy lifetimes to know that if we don’t force it, if we just sit and relax and enjoy the company of the trees (they talk, you know), our person will come along.

The best part about finding the right human is that the paper we ingested tells us just what our person needs. It might be that she needs to learn to take care of something, so we act like complete assholes and bark and chew and pee on things and our person is challenged to teach us and clean up after us. It might be that our person is simply lonely and needs a warm touch. Then we’re leaners (those dogs that walk up to you and lean into you). It might be that our person needs to clear an artery so we come as a breed that needs tons of exercise. We’re never tired. Ever. And trust me, we’re laughing when you say, “Again? You want to go outside again?” Because actually, we don’t need to go outside, you do.

It’s an honor to be one of us. Grand Mama Hound says that to be a dog, you have to have had at least fifty human lifetimes, enough to have gained more wisdom than all the Bodhis or Priests or Rabbis combined.

Babies can talk to us, by the way. When we kiss their little toes and fingers, it’s not because we’re trying to get scraps of sweet potatoes or peas (although that can be an added bonus). It’s a transfer of information—a brail of sorts—and their new soul hasn’t forgotten its origin, and when they grab our nose and pull on our ears, we’re exchanging facts, sharing for one split second all the beautiful, terrible things each of us will experience in our lifetime.

6 thoughts on “The Tribe

  1. Julie,
    I just read The Tribe via Heather’s post re Charlie. I’m laughing & crying! I love Grand Mama Hound and that dogs possess the wisdom of 50 human lifetimes – makes sense!!
    Thank you for writing such a comforting piece for broken hearts.
    Laurel
    (UWGNH alum)

  2. How ironic that so much of the beauty in the universe is dark to our little human brains. This piece opens a little window into that beauty. Anybody who has ever had a dog and loved him knows that this piece speaks Truth. They come to love and guide us.

    As the new guardian of a kitten, who, as I first held him in the shelter as I was “selecting” my newest cat, gave me this utter look of recognition and started purring and then yowling with excitement, I can assure you that cats come to us for all the same reasons.

    And, as the guardian to a very special dog who recently rejoined the tribe of dead dogs, I know he has saved my soul many times, and taught me that my heart could be pure love, a capacity I did not know I had. I can hardly wait to see what he will teach me next.

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