Kobi – a lesson in acceptance and unconditional love

March 3, 2011

Irish Setter 2

Kobi and Me

By Carolyn G Miller

Kobi was an Irish Setter puppy who belonged to my roommate Helga, and he was a holy terror. From the day he moved in, he began destroying everything he could get his paws and jaws on, every time he was left alone in the apartment. We’d come home after a day’s work to find curtains ripped off  windows; potted plants lying smashed on the floor; furniture gutted; and books and items of clothing chewed almost beyond recognition.

Helga, of course, felt terrible about inflicting this hellhound on me, but she loved the puppy to distraction, and couldn’t bear to give him away. Being an animal lover myself, I couldn’t help but sympathize. Anyway, we comforted ourselves, the problem was only temporary. It would soon stop as soon as she was able to train Kobi not to do these terrible things.

Helga assembled an impressive array of books on dog training, each of which guaranteed a well-behaved pet if one would only follow its recommended procedure religiously. No one could have been more conscientious than Helga, yet one technique after another failed. Kobi simply developed still more ingenious techniques for opening doors, getting into sealed garbage cans, and detaching breakable items from high shelves.

When Helga had to leave town for a week, I was left to carry on alone. The current technique hinged upon whipping the dog lightly with his leash for five minutes – no more, no less – in the presence of the mess he had made. The strokes were to be only symbolic taps. It was the duration of the punishment that was supposed to do the trick. I faithfully promised Helga to carry on in her absence.

I came in from a party late in the evening of the day she left, and there was that demon dog standing defiantly amid the wreckage as usual. My pleasant mood evaporated instantly. Dutifully I got out the leash, informed Kobi that he was a ‘bad dog’ and sat down on the floor to begin the whipping. Kobi just lay there beside me, submitting to this indignity with a sigh of resignation.

All I can tell you is that at some point in the five-minute process, I was simply overcome with shame and self-disgust. There was no getting around the fact that I had never liked Kobi – there wasn’t much to like as far as I could see. The quality of my life had deteriorated precipitously since he’d moved in. Still, it was pretty pathetic carrying a grudge against an animal. And now here I was whipping a dog who was obviously too stupid to learn to behave better.

Now, I knew I wasn’t hurting Kobi physically, but the whole thing just seemed so degrading! Ever since Kobi had come into our lives, he’d been doing mean things to us and we’d been doing mean things to him. He was still little more than puppy, yet his life had become variations on the themes of rejection and punishment!

And then it occurred to me that Kobi wasn’t going to change. It was time to face the fact that this was who Kobi was, and that as long as he lived in our apartment, this was wheat we could expect. Since I knew that Helga could not bear to give him up, and since I wanted to continue having her as a roommate, I was going to have to live with the problem too. So far as all of that was concerned, there was nothing I could do that I was willing to do.

But there was one thing I could change, I realised. I could change my attitude. I looked down at this miserable sinner of a dog, and felt my heart open up to him. Poor jerk – too stupid to learn not to chew things up – too stupid to avoid these tiresome punishements that punished Helga and me as much as they did him! I actually found myself weeping with compassion for this pathetic canine moron. I was unutterably ashamed of myself for having added to his misery.

I threw aside the leash and dragged Kobi’s huge bony head into my lap, sobbing out an apology I knew very well he couldn’t understand. “Kobi, I am so ashamed of the way I’ve treated you. You can’t help being the way you are, and if Helga and I aren’t going to give you away, we’re just going to have to accept you. Please forgive me for hitting you, and yelling at you, and hating you. I promise I’ll never do it again!”

By now the dog was alert, gazing into my eyes with real interest. “From now on, Kobi,” I continued “you just do any damn thing you want and I’ll deal with it. Tear the place up if you have to! I’m through trying to change you. I’m just going to try to learn to like you. And I’ll see if I can get Helga to give up on all this dog training stuff, too. We can’t make you do anything you don’t want to do when we aren’t here to control you. Not without hurting you a lot more than we’d be willing to do. So let’s just be friends, okay?”

Kobi panted up at me with that wide, clueless Irish Setter grin and I had to duck out of the way of a wet kiss. Following this exchange of civilities, I tidied up the mess – complimenting Kobi on the extremely thorough job he’d done on the wastebaskets – and took him out for a late run. In the morning when it was time for me to leave for work, Kobi walked me to the door as usual. “Okay, kiddo!” I said, giving him an affectionate ear ruffle. “Have at it! You might want to start with the sofa today. I think there might still be a little stuffing left in that middle cushion. See you later.”

When I climbed the stairs that evening it was with a sense of relief that I no longer had to upset myself about the mess Kobi would have made in my absence. But my front door opened on a very unfamiliar scene. There was Kobi standing in the middle of a perfectly clean, intact room. His head was up, and his tail was wagging. He looked me proudly in the eye and grinned. I burst into tears.

This “dog from hell” whose intelligence I had so often maligned, had responded to my friendly overture with one of his own. I suddenly realised that he had understood me very well the night before. His destructive behaviour had been his way of paying Helga and me back for withholding our love. We withheld love as a punishment to get him to stop destroying our stuff and he punished us for withholding it by destroying even more of our stuff. The problem wasn’t that Kobi was too stupid to understand what we wanted. He had always known exactly what we wanted him to do – he just wasn’t going to do it until we gave him what he wanted! Unconditional love.

I am happy to report that in the rest of the time Helga and I shared the apartment, Kobi was a model of canine decorum. It may seem strange that the change I had tried to extort from Kobi by force was given to me as a gift once I decided to accept him without conditions. But then, isn’t that the way it works? Even animals know better than to settle for conditional love.

Soulmates: Following Inner Guidance to the Relationship of Your Dreamsby Carolyn G Miller



  1. Great little piece–being a dog lover, you got me–I had to read this.

    I so often notice that people yell at their dogs when THEY have had a bad day. S@*% rolls down hill, I guess, and I wonder if these are the same people that will yell at their kids after a tough day at work when they don’t know what to do with their frustration.

    I think there’s a great lesson here–we shouldn’t be upset with dogs for being dogs, no should be be too upset or disappointed when humans are human.

    I’m glad I discovered your blog. I look forward to more 🙂

  2. Thanks for your comment, Paul – I love dogs too and this story brought tears to my eyes the first time I read it.

    I think we can see a lot of Kobi’s behaviour around us in the human race every day. I recall a line from the film Greenberg – ‘Hurt people hurt people’ – and on and on the cycle goes until someone is brave enough to step out of it, face up to their issues and change their behaviour.

    Thanks for reading, Paul – there’s 100 posts on here already so hopefully you’ll find something to interest you before the next entry goes up 🙂

    Warmest wishes


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