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The Wonka’s: A Case Study on Dogs and Minimalism

Mason and I walk our four dogs twice a day, which means driving to Springfield once in the am and once in the pm. In the last quarter-mile of our ride, we pass a small pink house that we ignored for years. For one thing, they didn’t have any animals. For another, it’s a beat-down home with a muddy, junk-filled backyard. The only remarkable feature is its color, a dingy pink but pink nonetheless.

In retrospect, I’m sure I didn’t pay attention to the house because without consciously realizing it, I judged it and the family who lived there. And I’m sure my judgment was based on the capitalist conviction that being poor is bad. But, just like so many times before, a dog set me straight. Dogs are the Buddha’s of minimalism because they don’t see external wealth. They only see what’s on the inside.

We first spotted the mutt at the pink house two years ago. He was sleeping on their porch under a sign reading, “Beware of Dog.” Disregarding his blissful pose, he looked like the kind of dog who causes wariness. A beast, he must weigh 90 pounds. His coloring, brown and black, suggests a Rottweiler and Labrador mix. So does his physique because he has the brawn of the former and the snout of the latter.

The sight of that brute napping so peacefully under that sign was so funny we started paying attention to the pink house, so much so that the family even earned a nickname. Two grandfathers, a youngish couple, and three girls, ages 5 to 10-ish, live in a space that can’t be more than 800 square feet. Because of their crowded living circumstances, we couldn’t help but think about Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, thus they became the Wonka’s.

Now, we call the dog Mr. Wonka, and “check in” on him every time we ride to town. One of the first things I noticed is that he’s never leashed and doesn’t wear a collar. At any moment, he could run away and leave the pink house, its slumped roof, and grimy walls behind, but he doesn’t. And why would he? Completely unaware of his social status, that damn mutt is undeniably happy. From his swinging tail to his slobbering smile, his body language reads like a neon sign glowing, “Welcome Home.”

After a few months of paying attention, I began to realize the people in that house are as happy as their dog. The Wonka’s are a family-oriented bunch. Every morning, the grandfathers, dad, and all three girls stand outside to wait for the school bus. And Mr. Wonka is right there with them. He escorts the kids to the bus, then meanders back to grandpa, so they can watch the sunrise in Robertson County.

On weekends, the porch is never empty. Mom and dad are usually holding court with the neighbors. The grandpa’s are grilling on the hibachi or drinking beer from bottles wrapped in brown paper bags. Apparently, the Wonka girls didn’t get the memo that kids don’t play outside anymore. Over the years, they have built forts, rode bikes, raced relay-style, and sloshed through mud puddles, all while dressed in bedazzled pink dresses. Nobody in that family ever looks sad, angry, dejected or any of the subconscious feelings I associate with poverty. Instead, their body language mirrors Mr. Wonka’s, as though everybody is exactly where they want to be.

Last week, I got stopped behind a garbage truck and sat in front of the pink house for a solid three minutes. The girls were standing in a kiddie pool. With clasped hands, they were surrounding Mr. Wonka and giggling. Uncontrollably. When I saw that mutt, I started giggling too. Looking perfectly content, he wore a blue cape and a magician’s hat complete with a tassel on top. He was big enough to plow through those girls and shred his cape within seconds, but he didn’t. Instead, he sat there as though wearing Dumbledore-type attire was completely normal. I circled the block twice so I could see that silly, happy dog again and again.

Overcoming subconscious social prejudices is a constant struggle for me. Minimalism is a lifestyle but it’s also a belief system that strives to strip away consumerism and all its superficial connotations. When I first saw the pink house, I disregarded it because what can be fun about being poor? But, when I stopped seeing the home through the lens of materialism and started seeing it through the eyes of a dog, I realized the Wonka’s have something way more important than material wealth. They have happiness. They have each other.

Now, Mason and I wave when we pass the pink house, and they wave to us, probably wondering, “Who are those crazy people with four dogs hanging out of a Civic?”

One day, I plan on telling them they are my daily inspiration.

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