Office Hours: Just a Dog?  Some Lessons from my Best Bud 

by Santo D. Marabella, The Practical Prof®

This column was first published in the Reading Eagle on September 5, 2023.

Dogs. Cute, lovable creatures — sure; transformative, teaching beings — oh, please… “It’s just a dog!” Right? I was so wrong.

I recently had to let Rafaelle, my 11½ year old flat-coated retriever, go so he wouldn’t suffer. I know that one of the most difficult choices I’ve had to make was also one of the most compassionate. Right now, that’s hard to feel as the hurt cuts deeply.

As I work through it, I am reminded of so many ways he was more than just a dog. Before I share, a little bit about my best bud.

Raffi (his most frequent nickname) became part of my family at 9-weeks old. At home, he was a bed hog, skillful hide-and-seeker, voracious eater and tug-of-war champ. He went everywhere he was welcomed: the bank; doctors’ appointments; Lowes; outdoor dining establishments in the tri-state region; and, friends’ homes and their pet-friendly vacation rentals up and down the East coast.

Raffi was as much a part of my professional life as my personal life. I trained him to be a therapy dog, which included years of coming to class. My Mom used to say, “He deserves four degrees!” While his attendance was stellar, he could often be found sleeping or trying to mooch snacks from his classmates. Even then, his presence was calming and supportive, and probably explains why he got better student reviews than I. That presence made a difference in visits to hospitals and nursing homes as well. Raffi was also an actor, on and off the “set.” He was in four of my TV/film projects, the inspiration for one of my plays, and appeared in a TV commercial promoting a festival that earned him some cash (all of which foolishly went to treats and toys!)

When Rafaelle - or Raffi as he was affectionately known - recently passed away, owner Santo Marabella reflected on the lessons he learned from his best bud. (Photo Courtesy Santo Marabella)


When Rafaelle – or Raffi as he was affectionately known – recently passed away, owner Santo Marabella reflected on the lessons he learned from his best bud. (Photo Courtesy Justen Patrick Lander)

So, other than being a cathartic exercise for me, how can today’s column benefit the reader, including non-dog owners, as much or more than me?

More than just a dog

It quickly became clear that like me, Raffi was also a teacher — but I was the student! I’ve shared some of the lessons I learned in these columns, most notably “Be a Dog at Work” (May, 22, 2018), where I encouraged readers to be like Raffi — nonjudgmental, accepting, fully present, empathetic and good “pack” leaders/members.

As I sifted through the memories, I realized today’s lesson rests on two core principles: Unconditionality and selflessness. Even non-dog readers know that canine creatures have a reputation for putting their family and others first, and for requiring nothing before they do and nothing in return. They want our love and affection, but demand nothing from us.

Their unconditional and selfless behavior is a role model. When we learn from them, we become more. I am more because of Raffi… more patient, more kind, more accepting, more authentic, more empathetic; in other words, more emotionally intelligent. Of course, I still have many lessons to learn, but Raffi made me a better person and a better teacher, writer, creator.

Unconditionally selfless at work

Looking more closely at some of Raffi’s lessons, their relevance to our work life is formative:

Empathy: Raffi knew when I was upset, even if I was on a different floor of the house; he would go out of his way to show some love when I needed it most. When was the last time you went out of your way, or even to the next cubicle, to show a colleague you feel “with them,” that you are sensitive or simply acknowledge what they are going through?

Authentic: Raffi was always himself, whenever and wherever he went — always a foodie, ready to play or sleep and never too far away from people because he never tired from being together. It’s a wild concept — a living being desiring to be around you, 24/7. I don’t always want to be around me! How many “faces” do you have at work — one for your boss, one for your colleagues, one for your subordinates? Wouldn’t it be great if we wore the same face for everyone?

Patient: Raffi would wait quietly and patiently for his meal or treat (I wasn’t always timely). I’d look at him sitting up and politely staring, and remember what I forgot! How frustrated are we when a nanosecond passes without a response to our email or request, or an expectation for a promotion or raise is not met instantly?

Accepting: If you were around me, Raffi accepted you without pretense — no matter what color, age, gender, etc. He might get slightly jealous if you gave me a hug, but after he “voiced” his objection, it was acceptance. Are we truly accepting of everyone we encounter at work, especially those with whom we disagree or don’t like?

Kindness: I can’t remember Raffi being unkind or in a bad mood, overly zealous about playing, yes, but never mean. Even when sick, I could always get a tail wag. How often do we hear, “Don’t go near so-and-so today — they’re in a bad mood!” Are we so moody that co-workers feel they must walk on proverbial eggshells? Do we use our moods to control and intimidate others?

Let’s imagine for a moment that we and our coworkers are like Raffi — unconditionally selfless. What a wonderful work-world it would be! Rescue, adopt, get a dog, so Raffi’s legacy will live on and we’ll all be more than we ever thought was possible!

Next Column:  Vacay:  Can You Really Disconnect?

Dr. Santo D. Marabella, The Practical Prof, is a professor emeritus of management at Moravian University and hosts the podcast “Office Hours with The Practical Prof … and Friends.” His latest book, “The Lessons of Caring” is written to inspire and support caregivers (available in paperback and eBook). Website:; Twitter: @PracticalProf; Facebook: ThePracticalProf.