“There is no greatness where there is not simplicity, goodness and truth.” - Leo Tolstoy
Our dog, Raffi, died a few weeks ago and that made everyone who knew him over the 11 long years of his life sad. There wasn’t much that was special about Raffi.
In fact, it was his lack of “special-ness” that made him great. He was a simple-minded fellow who barked too much, didn’t mind very well and pulled WAY too hard on his leash, in spite of all the training tricks we tried...
He was also a loving boy who showed up every day of his life with enthusiasm and joy, ready to participate in whatever adventure (or non-adventure) lay ahead. Raffi didn’t care if nothing at all happened or if something amazing, like a raccoon ending up in the yard, occurred. He lived every day to its fullest and the simple pleasure with which he did so could serve to inspire us all.
When Raffi was little we called him “Chockie Pie” (for “Chocolate Pie.”) He was a pound puppy, a chocolate Lab mutt, who we got to keep our big, fancy Rottweiler, Pru, company, after her dog friend, Mona, died. Raffi didn’t start out as the sharpest tool in the shed and years of being tossed about playfully by a Rottweiler didn’t add to his mental acuity, but, that didn’t matter. Raffi seemed to know he was never meant to be the brains of the operation and he excelled in his role as enthusiastic playmate and clown.
Our kids were in high school when Raffi was young, so there was plenty of love, toys, games and attention lavished upon him in his early years. One of his favorite games was “Red Dot,” which involves chasing a red laser light for as long as someone is willing to point it. We played Red Dot Raffi’s whole life, but it always surprised me when, years later, one of the kids’ grown-up friends would stop by and Raffi would immediately run to the toy basket and start barking, as if to say, “I remember you! It’s time to play Red Dot again!” Raffi never let being simple-minded get in the way of keeping track of the things that really mattered...
Another surprising thing about Raffi was that he seized the role of “protector” early on and remained strong in it for the rest of his life, no matter how many other dogs passed through our lives. Definitely “a lover, not a fighter,” Raffi was, however, steadfast in his ability to keep our home, yard and the other pets safe from intruders. Over the years, Raffi killed three rabid raccoons, countless rats and possums, and made sure other unwelcome creatures, like feral cats and stray dogs, knew to stay away from our yard.
Late in life, Raffi suffered from arthritis and clusters of large, inoperable, non-cancerous fatty tumors. Even with medicine and mobility aids, these things impacted his ability to get around the way he wanted to, but that didn’t get Raffi down. He just kept smiling and striving, building up strength in the limbs he needed to help compensate for the failing ones...I’ve never seen a creature fail physically, over so many years, while so cheerfully embracing the challenges of maintaining his quality of life. Up until the very end, Raffi took his walks and went up and down the stairs to sleep in his bed next to mine. He kept barking; he kept eating; he kept playing with his toys; and, he kept protecting his yard and his dog friends.
How Raffi loved sitting in his yard at the end of the day, surveying all that was his - all that he had ever known, with a contented look on his face. And, later, when it got to be too hard to go down into the yard, how he loved sitting on the back porch in the evening sun, watching his world settle in for yet another night...
In these days of reality TV, YouTube, Smartphones and everyone’s a rock star on their own right, Raffi’s approach to life seems like a particularly valuable one. He had no illusions of grandeur; he never even tried to be the Alpha dog. He knew his place in the pack and he embraced it. Raffi seemed comfortable knowing that no one much was watching him and that chances were, even in our household of sometimes pretty ratty rescue dogs, the dog all eyes would be on, would never be him.
Yet, he did his best to live, love, contribute, enjoy and make a difference in whatever dog-way he could, each and every day. The world might be a simpler, more pleasant place if more of us approached our days the way Raffi did, finding greatness through our own goodness, enthusiasm and simplicity.
Rest in peace, old Buddy; you will be much missed.
Lorin Sinn-Clark is a writer for the Barrow Journal. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org