It is like this: wherever we go, people make a beeline for Moune. One block of Charlottesville’s pedestrian mall will bring “What kind of dog is that?” “Oh, honey, come check it out! He looks just like Benji!” “Is that a Briard?” “Can I pet him? Her?” “What’s its name?” “Winn-Dixie!” “Can I take a picture?” “How old is he?” “Hey Bud!” “Oh. My. God. She is so PRESH!”

Some days we enjoy the limelight; other days Ma Moune tolerantly stands there while I, hackles raised, can barely suppress the urge to growl and bare my teeth. It is great patience practice if I’m in a hurry or a bad mood. I’ve joked with friends that next time I’ll get a dog that everyone will pass by without a second glance.

A dog like Julot (zhu-lo), who belonged to my friend Marc when we were in horticulture school in France years ago. Julot was an ugly blackish mutt, long-bodied and stumpy, with a share of dachshund in the mix, and he reeked. He smelled in general, his breath stank, and he farted with noxious gusto. His personality was not particularly engaging. He wasn’t very bright. He ate poop. Being short-legged but well endowed, Julot had pendulous testicles that would thwump on the stairs coming down. Thirty-odd years later, when Marc—who loved that dog to pieces—evokes memories of Julot, we laugh to tears.

But Julot would never do. I was drawn to Moune because I found her to be distinctive and special and wonderful. And by abstraction, that makes me, her human, special. Without Moune, I could walk up and down the Charlottesville Mall a dozen times and the panhandlers alone would notice me. I could be just a “grain of sand in the universe,” and know it, as in Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche’s “We are just a speck of dust in the midst of the universe. If you are a grain of sand, the rest of the universe, all the space, all the room is yours, because you obstruct nothing, overcrowd nothing, possess nothing. There is tremendous openness. You are the emperor of the universe because you are a grain of sand.”

But my grandmother used to tell me I was special—in a good way—and I liked it. I’m not quite ready to relinquish my fantasies of specialness, embrace the freedom of nonidentification, and be a speck in the universe, empress or not. Moune, the anti-Julot, supports me in my special quest. A pure-bred Berger Picard, she’s an appealingly shaggy creature with character traits typical of her little-known breed: headstrong and self-contained meets comical and endearing.

By and large, she’s so well-mannered and adaptable that I keep her in tow as much as I’m able. Often, if I’m teaching or leading meditation practice, she’ll accompany me and wait quietly on her cushion. If the session is emotionally intense (I’ve been focusing a lot on aging, illness, and dying lately), Ma Moune can provide a safe outlet for participants’ feelings. And last winter my special companion and I became a certified therapy dog/handler team and began weekly visits on the palliative unit in the hospital where I was working.

Being blessed with a great dog, I reckon that the best thing I can do is to cultivate gratitude, patience, and generosity, and share her with my little world. In the hospital lobby, at the nurse’s stations, and in room after room, people fuss and I talk about Moune’s breed and her story, and ask about the pets in their lives. And with every smile that Moune occasions, my special little world thanks me back.

 

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