animal health consulting

Stories: Miss Lilly takes her time

Christine King  BVSc, MANZCVS (equine), MVetClinStud

Time is something that has tyrannised me for pretty much my whole life. "Hurry up!"  "Wait!"  "Don't be late!" As a result, I hate to keep people waiting, and I hate to be kept waiting.

Miss Lilly didn't bother with all that nonsense. She could move with lightning speed when she wanted; but she was just as good at going slow, or not moving at all. On our walks, I would usually go too quickly for her and I'd get impatient when she'd want to take her time and sniff every square inch of the way, veer off down a different trail, or 'go bush'. And heaven help us if we happened upon a site where another dog had peed! We'd be there for hours (or so it felt to me).

Most maddening was when she'd stand at the back door, deciding whether she wanted to be inside or outside... She loved to be outside, but she hated to get rained on. That was quite the dilemma when we lived in the Seattle area, where it rained for nine months of the year and dripped off the trees for the rest.

I'd long been of the view that I should be giving her as much freedom and choice in her daily life as I could manage under the circumstances. As we had a fully fenced yard, she had the choice of being inside or outside, whichever she pleased; she knew both words, so I would routinely ask her whether she wanted to be inside or outside. We didn't have a dog door, though, so she couldn't just come and go as she pleased; I had to be 'on the door'.

On several occasions, I found myself standing at the back door, holding the door open for her as the chilly, wet wind blew in, impatient for her to make up her mind. I could see her weighing her options, because she would look in at the kitchen and then out again at the rain. Her eyebrows would lift and her ears would twitch as she looked at the rain, as if she was thinking "maybe it'll stop soon." Our house was cosy and warm, but outside was vastly more interesting than inside.

Then it finally struck me: she was indeed considering her options, but unlike me, who was entrained to the immediate responses (and expectations of immediate response) of human communications, she was making her choice as though she had all the time in the world. No, scratch that; as if time didn't exist. Because for her, human time didn't exist. Dog time did, and in dog time there are only a handful of times: meal time, play time, walk time, nap time, bed time, and getting out of bed time.

Over the years, Miss Lilly taught me by splendid example the importance of letting my watch battery go flat and ignoring the clock on the wall, and instead eating when I'm hungry, stopping when I'm full, resting when I'm tired, going to bed when I'm done for the day, getting up when I wake up, and so on.

I've been without the live-stream of Miss Lilly's Lessons on Life for over 5 years now, and I must admit that I've backslid a bit. (Miss Lilly completed her mission in 2017, at somewhere between 16 and 17 years of age.) Remembering how she'd take her time with important decisions such as inside or outside has gotten me thinking about time, and how I've been rushing headlong through life toward some ill-defined goal, when what I should be doing is slowing down and smelling all the great smells and exploring all the interesting things one finds along the way when we just slow down.

The curious thing is that magic happens — for example, inspiration lights on my mind like a butterfly on my shoulder — when I switch from human time to dog time...

© Christine M. King, 2020, 2022. All rights reserved.

First published on WordPress, 27 Oct 2020.