Life unfolds for all of us. 

               They really don't teach "life" in schools. Never did. Probably never will. There is no textbook, no curriculum that can prepare you for what is to be expected, or for what is to come. No guidebook exists that teaches you how to reach old age or retirement - everyone's ultimate goal! 

               It is picked up from the wisdom of those who have done it before us – passed down through the ages. It is a series of insightful events that prepares us for this thing we call life or living, and it is something we all must do, like it or not. 

               That was where my dad came in. My father wrote the song for the narrative of my life. He would use every opportunity when we were alone together to speak his mind, sometimes in Italian and sometimes in English, but usually a mixture of both. And while I did not speak Italian, I could always understand him. When all was said and done, it was always crystal clear. 

               In addition to the reality of everything was that what I did not learn from him, I learned from my dogs. 

               I can remember the summer of 1963 when I had just turned 14. Puberty had taken its toll amongst me and my friends, and there I was sitting under the three Bartlett pear trees in the back of our house on South Chase Street helping my father shell Italian fava beans. 

               He turned to me with that fatherly look and said, "You see, James, when God made the Earth He created dogs to be His eyes - His watchfulness on Earth. He wanted them here to protect people, to be their companions and their teachers. And to be sure that they would answer directly back to Him, He had St. Michael give every dog an angel who would be the dog's voice between Heaven and Earth. That way, God could be aware of everything going on in His world."

               Words spoken to me by a man who was a true animal whisperer of the nth degree. Animals always respected him because they knew he meant them no harm.

               My father was no magic man, no magician. But he believed in me and he believed in himself. And the remainder he related is just a matter of being true and believing in yourself. 

               He was self-assured. He knew what he was doing even when he didn't. He could convey knowledge even when it wasn't really there. He could do anything he put his mind to, and do it well.

               One of the first things I learned as a boy is that while you can fool some of the people some of the time, conversely, you can never fool your dog. A dog thinks with his or her heart and always knows what is true and what is not. 

               "And," my father said, "if you follow that rule in your daily life, you will always know when someone is being truthful with you." 

               Dad would always tell me, "Think twice about money, and do not let it become the master of your domain. Many things are free and those that aren't, do you really need them to make your life better? Most times you won't. 

               "Will a $1500. pair of boots keep your feet any drier than a $19. pair? Probably not, and is all that "sparkle" really worth the extra money? Doubtful. Try to see beyond the glitter and the glamour. Remember, you can always be happy with what you have." 

               And through the years I have had dogs who have stuck with me in bad times and in good, knowing that being together made the difference. Money really didn't have anything to do with it at all. 

               "Enjoy your day. Each one is a precious gift and eventually they will come to an end." 

               And nothing removes the frustrations of the day quite like a dog curled up in your lap licking your face. 

               "Son," my father would say, "always walk like you have some place to go and some purpose in mind. Don't dawdle, but always make sure you enjoy the pleasure that a walk brings. Life's too short not to have a location to arrive at and/or a goal to accomplish. Only you can make your life amount to something, and only you can make your dreams come true. So give it your best shot!" 

               When I walk with my dogs, they are always right next to me by my side. They keep me in their sight and they keep pace with me. Their companionship is priceless, and also offers me a sense of security. 

               "James, no matter what your age, anything you lack in skill can be learned." Dad was right. My senior year in high school I took beginning typing thinking that this class was just for young ladies who wanted to be secretaries. Little did I know that in my first year at Syracuse University "handwritten" papers were not accepted - typed only. Later, at one of my first places of employment, everything was done on a computer keyboard. I excelled because I could accurately type 100 words per minute, and it actually made the job easier for me. 

               When dogs came into my life, I always made sure that they learned two things: to come when called, and to sit and stay. Nothing else really mattered. They were not with me to perform tricks. As I was a best friend to others; they have been best friends  to me. 

               And lastly Dad would say, "Always take a moment to greet your loved ones when they return home. Do not let an opportunity to say "I love you," pass you by. Embrace it!"  

               When it comes to dogs, who amongst us has not relished at the sound of the barking cacophony waiting to greet us from the four-legged family on the other side of the door? 

               After all of these years, I often think back that I am who I am, because he was who he was - my dad. 

James Colasanti Jr.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  James Colasanti Jr. has received four Maxwell Medallions given by the Dog Writers Association of America for excellence in writing. A past president of the Animal Rescue & Foster Program of Greensboro, NC., James shares his home with his housemate, Sam, and seven rescue dogs. He is recently retired from Barnes & Noble booksellers. His stories have appeared in Cesar's Way, New York Dog, O.Henry Magazine, Triad Happy Tails, News & Record, and many others. 

My grateful thanks to Jem Vanston for trawling the Internet for me, looking for illustrations for Jim's story.

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