The Things I’ve Learnt From My Dog About Life

One year ago my husband and I had to say a final goodbye to our best friend, our dog.

We had Hercules in our family for 12 years and he was a best friend to both myself and my husband, the one that we could always count on to be by our side on any kind of adventure. The decision to call the veterinarian late that night was made for us by our dog’s own state – he simply could not go on and was in terrible agony. We had to make that call. Our three kids took time to say their own goodbyes, and watched my husband pick up this 100 pound family member and carry him down the stairs and out to the car. I don’t know if my husband will ever forget that moment. I don’t know if my kids will remember it.

As we said goodbye that night, Hercules laid his head in my lap and I held him in a long and final hug, my head on his, until the last breath left his body. And then some. I am not sure how long we sat with him in that office before being able to leave the room. I will never forget leaving it. That car ride home was unlike any other.

And so a year after his death I’ve decided to re-launch this article that I first published a week following it. At that time writing it was my way of mourning and trying to process the loss. This time around, it is simply a way to remember and celebrate the goodness a love of a good dog can bring to your life.

5 things my dog has taught me about living:

  1. If you want it, and you’ve been good, go for it: When we are young we are taught rules and boundaries to keep us safe and help us become decent human beings. But as we get older, much like our aging dogs, we need to learn to break the rules. “I’ve been good all day, and now there’s a hot dog left on a plate on the table that the kids are obviously not eating… why wait for mom to drop it in my bowl… just take it.” That was my dog age 10.  And while we gasped and chuckled at that blatant challenge to the rules, he had a good point. How long do we have to wait behind boundaries before just going for it? At some point, as adults, we need to weigh the benefits of breaking through some rules in order to reach greater freedom, greater success, greater happiness. As long as, at the end of the day, we are still good. So that when we successfully do this, others chuckle and cheer us on and maybe even slap our bums a bit in victory.
  2. Be love: When you walk through your day in anger you will be forgotten quickly. But when you spend your days being love,you will find a place in the hearts and minds of many. My dog was love. He loved unconditionally and he loved just about every person he met. He even loved most cats. He would greet everyone, small or big, with enthusiasm. As people, it might be good to try to emulate that a bit. How much kinder could this world be if we looked at everyone we met with a loving heart? If every child, woman or man was given an enthusiastic “hello” and a moment of our time? If instead of ignoring others, we welcomed them with 100% interest?
  3. Don’t let pain change you: The last couple of years – and certainly the last 2 days – of his life, our dog was in pain. Much of the things he use to love now would leave him unable to walk or climb stairs. But even through the pain, he never snarled. He never turned grumpy or growly. He remained kind and gentle and enthusiastic. If he could not get up to greet the kids at the door after school, he would vocalize his “hello” and excitedly scrap at the floor with this front feet. He would snort and nudge you with his nose every time you laid next to him for a pat. So I think we can all learn for that. Let’s be a bit kinder. A bit gentler. A bit better at working past whatever pain I might be feeling in order to be better towards others. Pain does not have to feed anger. Pain does not have to turn you ugly. We can choose to be better and stronger than pain. Always choose kindness. Always choose love.
  4. Live for your pack: Any dog owner can relate to this one. A dog will recognize his family as his pack and he will follow and protect and live for that pack. As a parent I often think of myself as a mamma bear. But recently I’be been thinking that I need to channel my inner bitch instead. My family and close friends are my pack, and just as my dog would give his life for us I realize it is okay to give myself 100% to the well-being of my pack. It is okay to get lost once in a while and forget what kind of music I like (!!! seriously, what did I use to listen to??), because I am singing nursery rhymes and playing Kids Bop instead. It is okay to eat macaroni and cheese, spaghetti and meatballs and chicken fingers on a regular basis instead of some fancy schmancy meal because I know the kids love that junk… instead… I can work at finding the best way to make that junk somewhat healthy. And call that a day. I can live for ways to make my pack happy. I can greet my kids with enthusiasm every day, even after a crappy night’s sleep. I can snuggle with my husband and listen to his heartbeat and breathing or just sit next to him, to be there, with him. I can try to come to the door every time they come home and greet them as if they bring with them the sunlight. I can make sure to be by their sides when it gets scary outside. To intervene when there seems to be trouble lurking and place myself between them and any threat (something my dog was very good at doing. A gentle giant he might have been, but only until someone sparked his spidey senses, then he would very quickly put himself between us and them). At the end of your life, I like to believe that you will not regret making your pack and its happiness your goal.
  5. Chase life, challenge the unknown: My dog was a giant, but he was not always brave. He would be cautious of all unknown elements. From his first time seeing a fish jump in the river, to a purple dinosaur play structure in a kids park – he would get scared of shit. But he wouldn’t let that caution get in the way of his desire to explore. He would challenge his unknown. He would chase down things that he could not explain, but that seemed by instinct he knew would be fun (gophers!). FUN. He knew that life was about FUN. I believe as adults we need to do the same thing. We need to connect with our instincts and chase after the things that just feel right to chase. The things that makes our heart beat faster and our metaphorical tails wag. We need to explore our curiosities instead of letting fear of the unknown stop us. We can be cautious. We can be smart. But we need to explore and learn and challenge ourselves.

A year has just about passed. And Hercules, we still think and talk of you every day. This love letter is to you – and to all the dog parents out there who have lost a best friend along the way.

doglessons

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