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Man's best friend also man's best teacher

If this is my landlord reading, please disregard the following column.

But for everyone else, I'll let you in on a secret.

I have a dog.

Yes, I saw the clause on the lease that said "No Pets," and I abided by it for a year. But then two drunken gentlemen tried to break into our apartment one Friday night, and we realized we might need a little more security.

As I stood there in the dark living room with my roommates, waiting for the police to arrive, it was painfully obvious we were an easy target: four girls in sorority T-shirts, standing rather cluelessly in our living room after an attempted break-in.

Through my retainers, which I still wear at night, I said, "Should we get a dog?"

My roommate, whose dad is a dentist and insists she still wear her retainers too, answered, "We could probably bring up my dog from home."

And so it began.

I had grown up with cats (yes, some people actually like cats), and this was going to be my first dog.

I was nervous, I was excited. Would I be a good owner? Would the dog like me? Would he really eat my homework?

For most of you, having a dog has probably always been part of your life. Your dog would be there to greet you when you came home from school or might have brought in your newspaper in the morning.

But this was all new for me.

When Buckaroo arrived in August, it was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. I was excited for all the walks we would take and all the games of fetch we would play. But I also felt as if my mom and dad were standing over me saying, "Lytle, a pet is not just fun. A pet is a responsibility."

Eight months later, I can honestly agree with them. Buckaroo, or "Roo" as we call him, is not just fun and games. True, we take wonderful walks together when the weather is nice, and we enjoy cuddling up next to the fire when it's not so nice, but Roo requires lots of attention and care.

Dogs need food, regular grooming and checkups with the vet.

In our case, a dog must be hidden when the landlord comes by and must go to "doggie camp" when its owners venture down to the Bahamas for Spring Break.

When I move to New York next year after graduation, I will miss so many elements of my life at U.Va. And I will especially miss Roo. I anticipate barely having enough room for myself in my New York apartment, and so it looks like Roo won't be making the journey to the Big Apple.

But Roo has taught me so many things about life in general, that I thought I'd taken a minute to share the lessons with you.

Many have subscribed to the theory on the poster, "Everything I Need to Know, I Learned in Kindergarten." But over the past year, I've come to agree with the philosophy of a similar poster: "Everything I Need to Know, I Learned from my Dog."

You can never take enough naps.

Roo may not catch too many squirrels, and I don't think he'd ever win a fight, but Roo knows naps. He can nap on the couch, on the kitchen floor or on my bed.

Whenever I think my life has become hopelessly busy, I take a look at the brown bundle of fur curled up on my comforter, and it makes me pause. Would the world be a better place if everyone caught a 30-minute nap in the middle of the day?

Every Tuesday, Roo and I set aside time for our weekly nap. Well, I set aside the time. Roo just moves from one nap spot to the other. But it improves my ability to pay attention in class, and I am in a better mood for the rest of the day. Maybe if we all took the time to recharge our batteries, we wouldn't feel as if we were always running on empty.

We waste too many valuable things.

If Roo's not napping, he's probably going through our trash.

Ever heard the phrase, "One man's trash is another man's treasure?" Roo makes it his mission in life to exemplify this idea.

While, admittedly, I have little use for a discarded water bottle or the remnants of my dinner, there are so many things I foolishly waste everyday.

At U.Va., all of our problems are problems of abundance: too much work, too many club meetings, too many job interviews and too many events on the weekends. In a culture of excess, why should we stop to think about everything we're wasting?

As a fourth-year student, it has become painfully obvious that our time here is limited. I'm not going to give a long-winded sermon about making the most of each day. But I will say that time is precious, and so are our friends. Everyday, we have opportunities that pass us by like the trolley headed to the Downtown Mall. When I watch Roo excitedly discover something I hastily discarded, I wonder if I ought to jump on that trolley more often.

Strangers are friends we haven't met yet.

As hokey as it sounds, there are so many great friendships out there waiting to be formed. Roo likes to make a new friend everyday. Now, I don't advocate taking his approach. If you go up to an unknown person on the Corner and lick his face, you may get slapped. Or arrested. But Roo has a love for people that always seems to inspire their love for him.

When is the last time you sat next to someone in your history class you didn't know? When is the last time you introduced yourself to someone in line next to you at Newcomb Hall, or struck up a conversation with someone you shared a table with at the Pav?

Now, in Roo's case, having a hot dog or a slice of pizza in your hand makes you a particularly strong candidate for friendship. But even if you're just an average guy walking down the street, Roo will take the time to meet you. Would you do the same?

Of all the things I've learned at Virginia, Roo's lessons have been some of the most important. Throughout my life, I hope I continue to nap more, waste less and make a new friend everyday.

And I would hope to continue wearing my retainers every night, but Roo didn't think that was very important. So he ate them.

Lytle Wurtzel can be reached at


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