I am the Ebeneezer Scrooge of pet owners. I loathe trudging through the rain, snow and dark of night to take my dogs on their thrice-daily constitutionals. I resent the hair on my sofa, the muddy paw prints on my wood floor, and my pets’ craving for toilet paper. (I’m constantly surprised by my dogs’ willingness to include all varieties of non-nutritive substances in their diet.) I’m not even especially fond of cuddling with my pups, as their hair makes me itch and their drooly kisses evoke just the tiniest shudder of disgust. But one look in their sad-looking puppy dog eyes brings up the same rush of maternal feelings as watching my son trot off to his first day of kindergarten. My tiny shih tzus bravado when they taunt the Doberman next door is a secret source of pride for me. I love that they see themselves as mastiffs in miniature bodies, capable of all forms of destruction and bullying normally reserved for real-sized dogs.

I’ve long been aware of the benefits that pets bring to our health: lowered blood pressure, tempering stress levels, companionship. But it turns out our canine compatriots are teachers in the spiritual realm as well. Dogs live in the moment. They don’t struggle with attachment or clinging to the past or what we wish would be. They enjoy all food without worrying about the effect on their waistlines or their cholesterol. They know the value — indeed, the necessity — of a long nap. They love, freely and completely, and with all that they have. The human journey abounds with opportunities to learn and grow. I’ve realized that life’s teachers can include beings with four fuzzy legs and a fondness for using my son’s backpack as a chew toy. Next time I embark on a walk with Niki and Desi, I’ll shelve my mental to-do list and my ruminations about the shortfall in our household budget. I’ll try to be in the moment with them, whether we are slogging through a muddy walkway or yapping at squirrels well beyond their reach in the treetops. Our pets remind us that the simple, present, everyday moments can be full of intense joy and knee-buckling gratitude. Just look at your dog’s face when you reach for the treat jar. THAT is pure bliss.