What I Learned about Work from My Dog

a radio commentary for broadcast on the internationally-syndicated public radio program Marketplace on or before Labor Day, Monday, September 1, 1997
(c)1997 by Fred Flaxman

HOST: Labor Day is a time for celebrating labor, honoring it, praising its many benefits and virtues -- and doing anything but work. Commentator Fred Flaxman recalls a friend of his for whom every day was Labor Day....

FLAXMAN: During the highly impressionable, formative years of my life, I was very close to one American whose disdain for doing anything useful was equaled only by his utter disregard for acting responsibly. And yet he was allowed into my family's household to begin with -- if not entirely welcomed -- to help me learn responsibility and good work habits.

When I was eight, I convinced my mother, who is not exactly fond of animals, to buy me a beagle. I promised to take care of him and to keep him out of her way. She got 50% off on Buster because he had stiff hind legs and -- excuse me, but this is true -- undescended testicles. It taught her to be wary of bargains.

During Buster's last four flatulent years, my mother took care of him completely since, by that time, I was away in college. He finally died of old age with a little assistance from the veterinarian and the enthusiastic approval of my mother.

But for just over a decade I walked Buster twice a day -- in rain, snow or shine, like an old-fashioned mailman. I fed him, brushed him, petted him and cleaned up after his frequent "accidents." I also confided in him, and he became my best friend.

Taking care of Buster helped me learn to be a responsible adult, just as my mother had hoped. I married and had two children. For a quarter century I went to work each day, putting up gracefully with rush hours, boring meetings, budgets, boards, committees and personnel problems (caused, most likely, by employees deprived of pets when they were children).

I footed the bills for my family's food, clothing, shelter and college education. I even paid for their mistakes. I washed and dried the dishes and occasionally made the bed. I contributed to charities and worked for four public television stations. I don't think I could have been a much more responsible adult.

But I harbored a secret desire to lead the good life Buster introduced me to. He never put in a full day's work. He never even worked part time. He never earned a dime, never did anything useful, never married or had children or knew or cared if he did, never put up with traffic, never sat through a meeting, never prepared a budget, never read a book or newspaper, never washed a car, never wasted time watching television -- even public television -- and never worried about nuclear war or anything else for that matter except, perhaps, which tree he should choose for his next stop. And even that he did without first obtaining an environmental impact report.

Buster was beautifully, innocently and completely irresponsible. And I loved him as he was, for what he was.

My former colleagues at work would be surprised to learn that all I ever really wanted out of life was to have my back scratched while sitting in front of the TV, like Buster... to run free in the woods on a sunny summer day... and to curl up in front of a fire on a cold winter's evening, listening to classical music that someone else would put on the stereo.

Having a dog for 14 years may have taught me how to be responsible. It may have instilled in me good work habits which have lasted a lifetime. But Buster taught me how to live.

This is Fred Flaxman for "Marketplace."