Real Life Lessons From Dog

My dog taught me about life.  I know, it sounds like this is going to be a real-life “Marley & Me” essay.  Maybe it will be, maybe it won’t.  Honestly, I have picked up that book several times and never read it.  I’m afraid of what I will read and how much more it will make me feel.

When you’re younger, you see an animal and think, “Aww, I want one!  I wish I could take one home to play with me!”  Heck, even when you’re older, you can play with say, a kitten, and wish it were yours for the sheer cuteness value.  When you’re a kid, everything’s grand.  Everything is innocent and the difference between wanting and having is huge.

But when you’re a grown up, you realize just what “having a pet” truly means.  It means, “adding a new family member.”  For better or for worse.

My dog taught me about life.  He passed away on March 19, 2009 in the arms of my mother and held by my younger sisters as he took his last breath.  Heart disease.  First signs occurred at the beginning of February and after several stays at the doggie cardiologist, it became obvious to us on the weekend of March 14th that his medications were not working and he–no WE–were fighting a losing battle.  All medications stopped on March 16th and three days later, that was it.  On those days as I watched him die, I learned more and more about life.  Every time we had to walk him – and eventually carry him – out to the backyard to use the bathroom, I learned about unconditional love.  Every time he would whimper that he had to go and then insist on standing on his own even when he stopped eating and drinking, I learned about dignity.  When the end began back on March 14th and he knew it was coming before we did and tried to sit off alone in the backyard, I learned about acceptance.  When my mother sat down with him on March 16th and told strider-santahim that he didn’t have to be alone, that we were there for him like he was there for us, I learned about family.  And when he struggled to breath for those final 60 seconds and mom told him that it was okay to go because he wasn’t alone, I learned about bravery.  You see, I didn’t lose a pet; I lost a brother, a family member and a long-time best friend.

They say that everything happens for a reason and that things are given to you right at the time that you need them most.  Strider became a part of our family just when we needed him.  Three girls, only five years apart, living in one house can be rough.  Fights with each other, fights with Mom and Dad, fights with friends – there was always some sort of drama.  But that’s where Strider came in.  He was our very own Switzerland.  I don’t think we sat there and used him as a diary to tell him every secret, but he knew who we each were at our emotional core because he was a dog who loved just as unconditionally as he was loved.  He never wanted to be alone.  When he was just a little puppy, my mom would have to wait until he was asleep before she could take a shower or else he’d start crying.  He lived for riding in the car, going for runs or walks, sitting outside in the sun, and working outside in the yard with my parents.  You could stick your face in his food as he was eating it and he wouldn’t care.  Sometimes he’d nudge you out of the way, other times he’d just ignore you.  He loved carrots, peanut butter, and tomato sauce.  He hated celery and grapes.

He was a good little boy.

Strider-snowMy dad had to have two surgeries on his knee in 2008.  Strider was there to help him recuperate both times.  He worshipped my dad and I think somewhere in his doggie brain, he knew that my dad needed a pal to help him get through the adjustment of not running or hiking.  They shared that frustration, Strider and Dad.  Strider had also had surgery on his knees.  I remember the night he got back from his first surgery.  Strider was in so much pain and he had to stay downstairs, which was obviously a no-no for the dog who lived for being within touching distance of his family.  I slept downstairs on the floor of the den with him that night.  His stitches were fascinating and his pain was heartbreaking.  But that’s what family does.  Strider came into my room and licked my face all those times I was crying and I sat with him when he needed me, too.  After Strider’s surgery, my dad walked him to get better.  After my dad’s surgery, Strider walked Dad.  That’s just how we worked.

He was playful, he was kind.  He was good-natured, he was loving.  There’s a Bible quote in Corinthians that teaches us love “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”  Many times, we look at that quote and see significant others as applicable.  I understand now that it’s really on the basic level of interpretation.  You love a dying family member.  That loves bears the sickness and pain on all fronts.  It believes that whatever happens is in God’s hands and therefore it shall be what comes to pass.  Love hopes to the heavens that there’s a way – just some miraculous way – for you to buy more time with their Earthly soul, and finally, it endures whatever challenges come into play along the way.  Sometimes that way is short, other times it is not.  Strider’s condition lasted 44 days, from diagnosis until he gave his soul up.  I struggle as I write this to decide whether we were lucky to have 44 days.  Often times, I wish we had 730 more days.  99% of the time, I angrily and wistfully plead that we could have had that.  Until I remember that we originally could have only 4 more days with him after his original diagnosis (we were told on a Thursday that he possibly could not last the weekend, a Sunday which happened to be my birthday).  For all of the sadness and stress within those extra 40 days, I feel deep down beneath the anger and the sorrow that we only had 44 days, that we were blessed and lucky enough to have those additional, beautiful, lovely 40 days.

Being raised Catholic, I know that Biblically, a lot happened over the course of 40 days.  When God wanted to cleanse the world, it rained for 40 days and 40 nights.  Moses stayed on the mountain with the Lord for 40 days.  The Israelites spent 40 days exploring the Promised Land.  Goliath came for 40 days before he was slain by David.  Jesus fasted for 40 days.  He was also on Earth for 40 days after the Crucifixion.  And our family was blessed with 40 extra days of Strider’s life.

strider-hikingI always thought I appreciated life and being alive, even in my dark hours.  I didn’t know what life was until I watched it slip away.

I’ll never forget my buddy, my brother, my pet, my best friend.  Our time felt cut short because I wasn’t ready to let you go.  But I never would have been, no matter how short or long.  It hurts that I’ll never hug you again.  It ripped me apart to say good bye to you, knowing that I would never see you again.  My puppy.

My dog taught me about life.  My dog taught me about death.  And as much as I believe that I’ll him see again some day, it still doesn’t make me miss him any less.  It doesn’t really make it hurt any less.  So thank you, Strider, for showing me what it was to love, to be strong, to have dignity, accept life’s outcomes, and to do it gracefully.  May you rest, heaven blessed.

strider-colleen-couch

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