Furgiveness: To err is human, to forgive canine

Most people turn to God when faced with the enigma of forgiving. Dog may also have some answers.

Valentine’s Day promotes pronouncements of love. But what is love? Peter Ustinov said, “Love is an act of endless forgiveness.” Certainly, forgiveness is key if we are to eschew hate and embrace love.

Although most dogmas endorse forgiveness, it can be difficult to find examples in a society where an eye-for-an-eye attitude sometimes prevails. All too often, retribution and retaliation are deemed acceptable responses. Dogs have gotten a bad rep; in actuality, it’s a human-eat-human world out there.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary says that to forgive is to give up resentment or claim to requital. Forgiveness expert Everett Worthington Jr. of Virginia Commonwealth University takes this definition further. He and his colleagues believe that, “The forgiving person becomes less motivated to retaliate against someone who offended him or her and less motivated to remain estranged from that person.”

There are some modern-day examples of Worthington’s version of forgiveness. In Lancaster County, Penn., the Amish community immediately comforted the family of a man who opened fire in their one-room schoolhouse. In South Africa, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission chaired by Archbishop Desmond Tutu granted 849 people amnesty for abuses committed during the apartheid era. 

Although these extraordinary examples inspire hope for the human species, when it comes to day-to-day forgiveness, dogs are our masters. Canines are one of the more abused species in the world; yet most that have been victimized continue to adore their abusers.

Consider NFL quarterback Michael Vick’s dogs. After surviving a nightmarish life of abuse, many considered them incapable of rehabilitation. Even PETA and the Humane Society recommended that these dogs be put down. But today, many of  Vick’s dogs, once considered bad to the bone, live joyful lives peacefully coexisting with not just humans, but even other dogs and cats. 

Although it may seem that your chow only has chow on his mind, veterinarian Alexandra Horowitz says this connection is more than food-based. She attributes this propensity for forgiveness to the development of the cerebral cortex in the canine brain. According to Horowitz, it’s not sufficiently developed to support human-like conceptual thinking and,  accordingly, to bear grudges.

Whatever the reason, dogs exemplify forgiveness in a world short on mercy. But this edification goes one step further: man’s best friend also gives us, ever so generously, the opportunity to practice forgiveness one annihilated sneaker at a time. The Dalai Lama says compassion is crucial to forgiveness. This might be good to remember the next time Fido flosses with your laces.

Ultimately, you can credit Fido with helping you live a more pawsitive life. Fred Luskin of Stanford University found that people who are taught how to forgive are more optimistic, forgiving, compassionate and confident, and experience less stress, anger and depression. His research demonstrates how learning to forgive may decrease a person’s risk for heart disease and mental and physical illness.

Truly, forgiveness is the key to a life full of love. Next time you feel trespassed against, it might behoove you to ask: what would Dog do?

• Moksha McClure is the founder of Whiskers Resort, a pet hotel in Lihu‘e offering doggie day care, training, grooming and overnight boarding for cats and dogs for more than a decade. Visit www.WhiskersResort.com or call 241-PETS.

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