Lessons From a Dog
“And in his final words, I found an ace that I could keep.” — Kenny Rogers, The Gambler
It’s been a week since we said goodbye to Charlie. Most dogs have many things to tell us as long as we are willing to listen. No, this is not meant to be a eulogy. It’s the last lesson he taught us before saying goodbye. Something we all should strive to do with our lives is to live with the attitude that our dogs do. Just imagine how much life better could be if we adopted this philosophy.
Charlie was raised in not so good circumstances. Prior to our meeting at vet school, Charlie had lived at a kennel facility in Arkansas. Many unsavory things happened there that are chronicled in the documentary “Dealing Dogs.” Charlie and a few other dogs were lucky to get out when they were acquired by the vet school but for Charlie he did not get a new home unscathed. A few years after I graduated, I found out that Charlie had been shot and he carried those pellets until the day he died. Despite that incident, he was a happy soul, never minded being the student “practice dog” as we learned physical exam skills, and was happy to be around people even if they were always palpating his abdomen. No matter where you came from, you can always strive for a better life and rise above. Sometimes it takes a little luck. It also takes courage, trust, and forgiveness. Be brave. Be forgiving. Be open to love.
Many people don’t realize that animals can also donate blood to fellow members of their species. Charlie was blessed with being a universal blood donor and he gave regularly during his time at the University of Illinois; in fact it was his main job. He even gave once more in an emergency 5 years after he retired and helped save another life. Give of yourself to help others without expecting anything in return.
When Charlie was adopted 10 years ago, he got to live with my mom while I finished vet school for the last 6 months. She promptly spoiled him rotten with cheese and dog treats so much that he gained 10 pounds which we later worked off. He also picked up the new chore of helping to clean out the cat litterbox which he did even until his last year. No, I still don’t know why dogs eat poop. Treat your grandparents well and they’ll make it extra worthwhile. Also, try new foods to eat – life is an adventure. Don’t regret the goodies in life even if you have to make a few sacrifices later.
Charlie was always the friendly type of dog. He was very fond of trying to meet the local squirrels. But deep down, he was a tender hearted ladies’ man. When people came over to visit, if the guest was a woman, Charlie was right there, trying to be a lap dog. With guys, he would offer a tail wagging hello then wander off to take a nap. I’ll never forget the day I got an email from my then future wife. She had seen a picture of Charlie & I, got in touch and, after many conversations, we decided to meet. Charlie could now add “matchmaker” to his resume. The rest is history. Get out and mingle. Make new friends even if they might be different from you. When you meet that person who might be “the one,” trust your instincts.
We moved to Canada in 2009 and settled on a small farm. Charlie & I had experienced snow before but I was not a fan being a native Floridian. I had always kept Charlie on the leash in school and while we lived in Florida but now I decided to try him off leash. I’ve never seen such a happy dog prancing through the snow. Jennifer was often worried that he would run off but I trusted Charlie and we had built a bond that the thought of him taking off never crossed my mind. He never wandered far and he always came back when I called, though with his black fur he did become harder to find at night. He also picked up the habit of backing into the bushes on the edge of the property to do his business…so much that sometimes only his face would show. Take some time to act like a kid again, play in that snow or on that beach. Set aside a little private time for yourself daily. It can help clear the mind and let you relax. Modesty and humbleness are good qualities to have.
Last year, we faced the most difficult time with Charlie’s splenectomy and the uncertainty that he would survive. We were fortunate, both in that it was caught before it was too late and we had luck on our side. Each day after that was a gift that we would never take for granted. It was always our wish for Charlie to enjoy another summer and it came true. A little over a year later, we received the cancer & kidney failure diagnosis that would ultimately signal the end. The last few months have been filled with ups and downs. But through it all, we were grateful for every day and Charlie wagged his tail and always rallied when we thought the end was coming. Live each day in the moment. Never give up. You have a purpose and you are loved.
Of course I miss my buddy and someday, I’ll adopt another dog to give them a life they’ve been dreaming of, full of love and a family. Until then, I will continue to help other people and their pets as best as I am able; it’s what Charlie would have wanted. October is Farley Month for the Farley Foundation. Their mission is to help elderly or disabled pet owners who have difficulty affording treatment for their companion animals. In October 2015, for every read & share of this post, I will donate 50 cents to the Farley Foundation in memory of Charlie (up to $500 and in addition to my own separate donation – update 2016: We surpassed over 2000 reads/shares last year in just a few short days). Thank you for all the condolences this past week and all the good wishes during Charlie’s journey with us over the past 18 months. Now take a dog’s advice and go live your life like they would.