"You Are The Greatest Teacher"
by Ron Hevener, Author, “The Blue Ribbon” and “Fate of the Stallion”
Having a kennel and loving dogs, I’m lucky enough to meet a lot of people they are important to; people from all walks of life. Today, the dogs we love and care for have a great affect on how we look at the world around us. Dogs are in the news, in movies, books, and all kinds of advertisements. What is their appeal? We know the answer to that. Dogs appeal to every sense we have, from visual to touch, and the magical result is the most powerful appeal of all … emotional.
Forget about the evolutionary history of dogs and worrying about how they may have come into being. Forget about making television documentaries about which breed was the “Original Dog” and traveling to exotic places to find the last remaining members of that breed on Earth. That’s all grand in a National Geographic kind of way, but the truth is lost in so many forgotten memories that it doesn’t matter to the dog in your life right now. What matters is the diversity of this species, and the possibility that there was no single original breed.
Do I believe in spontaneous genetics and things like that? Oh, yes; very much so. I also believe the emotional make-up of a living creature, and its mentality, are affected by its physical appearance. But, that could be my years of dog shows, raising just about every breed of dog there is at one time or another, or the artist in me speaking.
We all know our own personalities can rub off on our dogs. We know dogs are different from cats or birds or horses and other animals in their basic nature. Along those lines, customers at our kennel often ask which puppy in a litter is the ruler, which is the most loving or which is the most playful. Sometimes, when looking at a puppy by itself and searching for an emotional connection with this prospective fur-child, customers will ask if I think the pup will turn out this way or that. When I say it depends on them more than anything else, they are often surprised. “The dog is going to learn from you,” I say. “You are the greatest teacher.”
Here at our kennels, sometimes we raise whole litters together and we have a graduation system, like in school. Littermates start out together, but as they become more dominant, or according to their growth and the special feeding they may require along the way, they move up the ladder into the next run. They haven’t lost sight of their littermates because they are in the next kennel run beside them. And the new kennel mates aren’t strangers either because they’ve been housed next to each other for a while. The result is, our litters don’t have just one dominant pup with a bunch of followers. Instead, what we have is a bunch of confident, independent thinkers.
When I say, “You are the greatest teacher” I’m not speaking about rigid discipline such as one endures in Obedience classes. Maybe “rigid” isn’t the right word for that, but I think it illustrates the difference between fundamental training and the invisible “something” beyond that which develops between you and your dog just by traveling the same path in life. In my novel “Fate of the Stallion,” this mysterious bond is expressed in a scene where Dan Marshall senses the presence of an Arabian stallion running along the river beside him. The horse seems to be calling him, as if saying “Find me! I am yours!” and the story reveals the parallels of their lives, showing how man and stallion share the same fate. Likewise, in “The Blue Ribbon” a novel set in the competitive world of dog shows, there is a scene called “Miles To Go.” In this scene, Robert Sheffield, a dog show judge loved by two different women who own rival kennels, is hiking in the Canadian woods with his dog, reflecting on love. If you’ll notice, the path in the woods symbolizes Robert’s own path in life, and his dog is right there beside him. Like many of us do, Robert is thinking to his dog in a mental conversation, wondering if he has made the right decision by letting the woman he really loves slip through his fingers. Among the trees, the dog sees a deer, runs after it, but, of course, the deer gets away. “She got away?” Robert asks. “It’s OK, fella. We’ve got miles to go.” In those miles, will there be other deer? Will they see the same deer again? I wasn’t sure when I wrote that scene how it would turn out.
Dogs have an emotional appeal that covers our widest range of feeling. In my writing, whether about dogs or horses, the stories often deal with keeping our sense of love alive. Over and over again, at book signings and lectures, I am asked “What does keeping love alive matter to a man like you, who has everything he could possibly want and more than he can handle? I guess my reputation for playfulness has something to do with that. Surely, someone like me doesn’t have a care in the world! I say this with tongue in cheek, of course. Married at nineteen, a father soon after that and selling my artwork as souvenirs to tourists, you could say I’ve been around the block a few times. In fact, I’d say I’ve been around the block and all over the neighborhood! I’ve met many people in that neighborhood and I’ve come to believe our ability to love is eroded by the rotten things that happen to us. It is also nurtured by anything that makes us feel good and important.
As an artist, my studio has been committed to uplifting, encouraging work such as the Hevener figurines and paintings for over thirty years now. Very few animal lovers are not familiar with our collectible figurines with their open expressions and smiling faces. Even The Antiques Road Show has featured them. And all of our figurines, prints, books or CDs are made in honor of the animals who keep alive our ability to love, in a world where it is very difficult to do so.
Let’s talk about that world.
Today, we are facing a crumbling economy. Let me rephrase that. We’re not facing a crumbling economy; we’re in it. Just about everywhere we turn, something is falling apart. All of us know people who have lost their jobs. All of us see businesses closing. All of us see odd legislation being passed – things we never would have considered before the day in September that changed it all. There is an uneasiness around us. And it’s growing. As we deal with serious issues more and more, as our families fracture and our natures become more hardened, our pets become a comfort to us and sometimes the only way to keep our hearts open.
At a recent high school appearance, I spoke in the auditorium about the many things people can do with their lives; the many adventures they can have in the creative fields I know something about. Publishing, the record business, television, movies, horse racing, dog shows, horse shows, the art world; surely I could open doors for them in an exciting array of life’s opportunities. But, looking around that auditorium, I saw no spark of interest or imagination. As we left that school, I said to my assistant, “Maxine, this is the first time I can ever remember not even reaching one soul.” And I asked myself what kind of society would want zombie-like citizens such as I had just seen. Was it an “inner city” school I had just been to? Yes. Was it New York or Chicago or Philadelphia? No. It was a school in the town of Lancaster, Pennsylvania; in the county known for its industrious Pennsylvania Dutch; the county in which I live. Were they Pennsylvania Dutch kids I was speaking with? No, they were not. In much the same way that Hawaii was invaded by outsiders and the values of its native population changed forever, Lancaster County has changed and I doubt if there was even one student of Pennsylvania Dutch background in that school. This is serious. It’s why teachers are giving up. And it has happened in our lifetime!
The hopelessness of those students mirrored the hopelessness of their homes. But I knew these kids had pets at home, too. How did I know? I asked them. In a show of hands, reluctant at first, I had found out how many had horses, dogs, cats, fish and other pets. And I thought to myself, this is the first thing they’re responding to. In a world where so much is out of their control, they don’t feel like they can reach the lofty things I’m talking about and maybe they can’t. But they can have an influence on their pets, and that’s a start.
Today, right now, pets are more important than ever. In order to keep pets and take care of them, we have to provide for them. To provide for your pet, you have to buy food. Which is best, you wonder?
You must take your pet to the veterinarian. Who is the best vet around, you ask?
If you want a litter of puppies, you must find a mate. Where do I find the perfect match, you ask, searching out the local kennel club.
When the pups are born, it’s one of the most magical experiences of your life. You’ll always remember it. Now, you must raise them and for the next couple of months you will do everything you can to raise them well. You’ll have paper work to fill out: registrations and pedigrees to prepare and sign. You’ll meet new people when families come to you for the puppies you brought into the world. Everywhere your pet takes you, it means dealing with other people, talking things over and finding out what works for you. Before you know it, you have a lifestyle and a reason to live.
That school of the zombies? It took me a while, but I finally figured it out. They didn’t want to see an author that day. They wanted a ray of hope. I guess I should have brought a puppy with me.
Next time, I’ll remember that.
1338 Mountain Road
Manheim, Pennsylvania 17545
Mr. Hevener is the author of "The Blue Ribbon"(Pennywood Press)which can be ordered through Barnes & Noble bookstores everywhere.