In Memory of Bear – 2001

Fran Miller, Ph.D. ©

In May of 1991 I drove with a friend from Portland to Sisters, followed directions through back roads to a  llama ranch, and ended up on a long driveway winding towards the main ranch house.  I was looking for a pet.  Four Great White Pyrenese dogs ran towards the car.  When I pulled up, one of the pyrs ran up to my side of the car, jumped up, and put his paws on the window ledge.  “I hope it’s this one!,” I yelled.  I had found my soul mate who would almost never be more than ten feet from my side for the next decade.

Bear was all white with wolf grey markings on his face and black ears.  Pyrs have the same shape head as a bear, so with his coloring, he looked a lot like a polar bear.  Bear went everywhere with me.  He sat on the front porch guarding the “castle” during the day, and slept on the floor beside my bed at night.  I am a psychologist, and spend many hours every week seeing clients.  Often Bear was in the room with us, sometimes on the sofa with his head in a client’s lap.  We walked and ran every day nearby in the Hoyt Arboretum: sun, rain, hail, or snow.  Only with ice did we have to stay home.  We knew every dog that was a regular, just as I learned the names of  most of the trees, shrubs, and plants labeled there.  

Bear accepted me as his master from the beginning, and was loyal to the end.  I was always surprised  by the number of people who went out of their way to stop us on the street, or even come to a halt in the middle of an intersection, to ask about Bear.  And the number of people who used the adjective beautiful to describe him amazed me.  But he was truly beautiful.  He was intelligent, patient beyond belief, and he was my dearest friend.

Great White Pyrenese dogs protected sheep from large predator animals — bears and wolves. At first, I didn’t think about the nature of the breed. Later, after I got Bear, I remembered that my therapist had told me that no man in my life had ever protected me.  Well, Bear did.  When we would walk down a street with no one around and someone started following even a long block behind us, Bear would not go forward.  I would command, “Come on, Bear!”, and pull and tug on him trying to drag him forward, but he would not budge until whoever it was passed us by!  In the Arboretum, if someone was on a nearby path in the trees, he would stop and point with his nose, until I said, “I see them.  It’s OK, Bear.”  Then he would go on.  Once in the whole 9 1/’2 years that I had him, I was getting him out of the car at the Arboretum, and Bear reacted to someone. There was a man across the street, and as soon as Bear saw him, or smelled him, he started to jump around vehemently and growled, barked, and curled his lips!  I had never seen anything like that before.  I tried to get him to walk in the opposite direction, but he wouldn’t stop barking and growling.  So I finally put him back in the car, and called across the street to the man, “He doesn’t like you for some reason!.”

I used to say that Bear was a Zen Master that came back for an extra round.  My oldest son, Jim, said, “But why with you, Mom?”  I feel like I was the luckiest person in the world for him to choose to be with me.  He taught me what Buddhist philosophy is all about, and what mindfulness means in everyday life.  He taught me attention and acceptance.   When he was lying on the porch with his paws out front and his head alert and he saw a squirrel run on a branch, he would not move, but his eyes would follow the squirrel down the branch.  If a bird hopped from one branch to another, he would hold perfectly still, but his ears would lift up to hear the little jump.  Great White Pyrenese dogs don’t show when they are suffering.  Once when he had a terrible infection, I didn’t know it until he was in dire straights.  He never showed that he was in pain.  As he aged, he had arthritis that slowly got worse and worse.  He never indicated that he suffered.  He moved slower, and his hind legs became weak, but even on the last day, he had a smile at his favorite park, and tried his best to romp like he used to.  

There is a story that at the end of Buddha’s life, someone approached him and asked if he could summarize the teachings in one phrase.  They didn’t expect him to answer yes.  He responded, “Nothing whatsoever should be clung to.”  Dogs are examples of this.  I always wonder that dogs never want the person next door to be their master.  No matter who they get, they almost always bond, and are forever loyal to that one.  Bear was a year old when I got him, and it amazed me that he bonded with me, stayed by my side until he died, and he did his best to protect me all those years.  He never indicated he would rather go to some place other than to the one where we were headed.  Just about the only preference that he had was that he waited for me to add something special to his food.  And I did!  He deserved it. But with any direction, any house, any location, he never showed a preference.  He was perfectly mindful and in the present.  He clung to nothing. 

 Sharon Salzberg writes that “To be independent and unfragmented, to be completely present, is to love.”  Bear was completely present, and he loved.