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Rich In Thought Dog Lessons In Life, Part Two
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With the onset of winter and the cold gloomy weather it brings to the valley, I am finding it extremely hard in the mornings to get out of bed. Like many, especially without children in the household, it would be so easy to pull the covers up and attempt to catch another 40 winks.

You know the feeling: the warm pocket of air under the covers, the heaviness of an extra blanket or comforter that is used during winter that wraps around you perfectly, the pillow is fluffed just right, a sense that if you can just stay there you can escape what awaits you, your fears of the day will diminish and all will be right with the world.

Some may question if this sensation - hiding under the warmth of the covers - is a warning sign of S.A.D. or seasonal affective disorder, also known as winter depression or winter blues brought on by the loss of sunlight and colder weather.

Fortunately, at Villa Paloma, I have my own anti-depressant for such situations and furry motivator to get out of bed - my Bernese mountain dog, Dante.

Dante, as well as my 9-year-old golden retriever Daisy, are spoiled enough to sleep in the bedroom with us. At the first sign of human stirring, or my alarm clock buzzing, Dante welcomes the morning with nothing less than what could be described as an exuberance of a new day.

First on his list is to greet everyone in the room. Two big paws land on the edge of the bed as a wet nose is thrust toward the closest non-covered human part he sees - usually my face or back of my head. To avoid a wet slobbery doggie-kiss, I'll pet him while looking at the childish, joyful, sweet face that embraces the coming of another fresh day.

After instructing him, "Off!" and he is content with hearing his human's voice, the clanging of dog tags and four heavy paws are heard to the other side of my bed where my wife Robin is met with the same tail-wagging affection. Sometimes there is a detour along the way to bark at one of the cats who may have snuck in the room overnight or a nudge to Daisy who, at age nine, wouldn't mind the comfort of sleeping in herself.

To Dante, when his people are awake it is time for a canine version of Carpe diem, for anything is possible and the wonderment of what even a dog's life could bring is enthusiastically received. A game of tug-o-war later? A strange cat in the yard to chase? A ride in the car? A walk downtown? (By the way, walking a Bernese mountain dog in a crowd is like swimming upstream as nearly everyone wants to pet him or say hi. I believe Dante knows this and eats up the attention.)

After I throw on my sweats and pad my way downstairs, Dante bounces along knowing we're on our way to the back door to start the next part of his routine. Good kidneys and a big bladder are his trade-off to be able to sleep inside despite his Swiss lineage (or Northern Italian as I like to claim him) of being bred for the cold weather in the Alps. Daisy occasionally follows; otherwise she's content to take her time.

When my morning coffee is brewing to jump-start my day, I'll watch with inspired amazement at the black-rust-white flashes darting across the back window as Dante is content running from side fence to side fence with a wholehearted zestful romp.

During his frolic in the yard, Dante's attention gets diverted to the plants and flowers growing in the yard and I'll catch him sniffing around. Even in wintertime, green plants, flowering buds, or barren branches can become simple playthings. I'll enter the yard with a stern, "What are you doing?" (As pet owners, we do this; talk to our animals. I'm told it's when we start to expect them to answer that the problems start.) He'll look in my direction and I'll just get the cocking of his ears as he hunkers down with an inviting bark for me to join him in his playtime.

When he gets his morning bowl of kibble to fuel his boundless energy. Dante digs in with gusto, finishing when full, his tummy satisfied. Dante then goes back to playing. Being alone doesn't matter. He is satisfied with his solitude, not loneliness.

It's at that time that the dreariness of a winter morning fades and I realize that I'd love to play and work like a dog, regardless of the weather. A reminder that, even though there is repetition in one's day, not to just go through the motions of life or life's chores, but to fervently involve yourself. Not to fear change or what trouble or challenges the day may have in store, but instead to welcome it with exuberance for what adventures it may bring.

Richard Paloma is a retired police officer and writes for The Riverbank News, The Oakdale Leader and The Escalon Times. He may be reached at 847-3021 or