Giving, And Saying, Thanks

As I write this, the North Texas area has been enjoying a much-needed, drought-fighting rain that is going on its third straight day. While there are a few detractors who moan and grumble about the overcast weather, most people have been expressing an overwhelming sense of gratitude for the downpour. They are giving thanks.

Normally, I write my annual “give thanks” column in November, when Thanksgiving is upon us and holiday spirits are beginning to soften even the grumpiest of Grinch hearts. But like the good deeds that accompany holidays, being thankful isn’t something we should limit to once a year. Thankfulness is something we should practice year-round.

I recently learned a powerful lesson in thankfulness from an unusual source – a dog named Greta. Those who know me know that I foster greyhounds for a non-profit rescue group in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. A few months ago, I got a call asking if I would be willing to pick up a greyhound in Weatherford that was being surrendered to the rescue. Of course, I said I would.

My other foster dogs had been athletes – dogs straight off the racetrack, ripped with muscle and exuding good health. Greta was different. Greta had been a stray until a kind and patient soul fed her and eventually got close enough to catch her. It was January in Texas, and she was cold, starving to death and injured. The Good Samaritan nursed her back to health and called the rescue.

The first time I saw Greta, my heart broke. She was laying on a dog bed in the dining room, which is where she spent a majority of her time. She barely acknoweldged us as we walked into the room. She didn’t raise her head, wag her tail or even seem to care that we were there at all. She rarely interacted with the family and never sought out attention from anyone. She was compliant, tolerating human contact, but totally uninterested.

That night, not knowing what to expect, I introduced Greta to my dogs. Her dull eyes lit up when she saw another greyhound. When let loose in the backyard, Greta walked around, exploring every inch. She did the same thing in the house. I sat on the couch and waited, watching her become more animated as she explored every room.

When she was done, she walked up to me and slowly wagged her tail. Then Greta – the dog who never approached people, rarely left the dining room and never sought attention – ever so softly licked my hand. Greta stole my heart in that one, single moment when she said, “Thanks.”

Foster dogs seem to have an innate sense of gratitude that transcends reason. A soft bed, a squeaky toy, a good meal – that’s all it takes to elicit a shower of thankfulness. When she appreciates something, she lets me know.

We can learn plenty of life lessons from any dog, as they seem to have a unique ability to enjoy life to the utmost each and every day. But the lesson I am reminded of the most is thankfulness and, more importantly, the necessity of showing it.

I wonder, how much better could our lives be if we recognized all of the things we have to be thankful for, of which there are plenty? And, what if we actually told people when we appreciated them or something they did? 

Think back. When was the last time you sincerely thanked someone for doing something? I’m not talking about the rote “Thank you,” we throw out to strangers when they open a door for us. I’m talking about an honest “thank you” from the heart.

When was the last time you thanked a loper for getting your horse ready? Have you ever thanked a tired and frazzled show secretary as you handed over your entries? Have you ever considered slipping a thank-you note in with the check you send to your trainer each month? What about your horse? Have you taken the time to scratch his withers or just give him the attention he wants as a way of saying “thanks” for everything he does for you?

I know what some of you are thinking: “But they’re just doing their job! I shouldn’t have to thank them for doing their job!” And that’s true, you don’t have to. What I’m saying is you should want to. 

Anyone who has been on the receiving end of a sincere “thank you” knows and appreciates what it means. It feels good to be recognized, whether it’s for a job well done or an extra act of kindness along the way. The bonus is that we benefit from saying it as much as we do from hearing it. Doctors have even proven that people who say “thank you” a lot are healthier, happier and have more energy than those who are stingier with their praise. Is it any wonder dogs seem to be able to enjoy life, no matter what? They are masters at having an attitude of gratitude.

A short list of all the people you could thank in one day might include: hauler, vet, shoer, groom, loper, trainer, owner, concession-stand worker, arena dragger, hat shaper, dry cleaner, cattle supplier, show producer, announcer, association staff member, feed store employee, parking booth attendant and, well, you get the point.

Plenty of stores promote “Christmas in July.” This is my Thanksgiving in August. And I’ve decided it’s not enough to just be grateful for all that we have. It’s time we shared it. Bring back the underappreciated art of saying, “Thank you.” You’ll make people happy, and you’ll be happier, too. And if your “thank yous” are a bit rusty, I know a greyhound who can give you a pointer or two.