Live Life Like Your Dog Would

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 Charlie 2007kennel 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.

Adoption day 2005

Adoption day 2005

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.

The pic that started a relationship

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.

Almost 10 years later, our last day together lessons from a dog

Almost 10 years later, our last day together

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.

Charlie snow

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, fullFarley-Foundation 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.

Charlie last portrait lessons from a dog


  1. I shared your beautiful story. As a multiple dog owner, the hardest thing about owning a dog is that they will never live as long as we would lilke
    My elderly Aussie is going blind from cataracts, developed diabetes, and has terrible arthritis. We keep her out of pain, she is still happy, just watching life go by. She will lay in the sun and bask in the grass still, we will know when it is time

    • Dr. Ryan Llera

      October 4, 2015 at 11:49 am

      Thank you so much for sharing Lisa! It would be great if our dogs could live as long as we do and be healthy for many years. I’m sorry to hear about your Aussie but it sounds like she is truly loved and you are doing your best to keep her comfortable and happy. I wish you guys well!

  2. Charlie really did give us many lessons to learn. Big hugs to you & your wife for finding the lessons and sharing them with us.

    • Dr. Ryan Llera

      October 4, 2015 at 11:45 am

      Thank you Mary. I’m happy to share the things I learned from him and I’m sure somewhere there is still more he may have had to share.

  3. Such a touching account of the wisdom you gained from Charlie. It so perfectly highlights what wonderful gifts we get from our canine companions. Thanks for sharing it Ryan. Peace to you as always….

    • Dr. Ryan Llera

      October 4, 2015 at 11:46 am

      Thank you Mary! Yes, dogs do share so much with us and we can learn so much about enjoying life from them. He was always my guardian even through vet school years and then all the years after when I got him home with me.

  4. Esther Faith Holman

    September 29, 2015 at 10:23 pm

    Beautiful and Poignant. Our canines attitude is inspirational and simply put, a spiritual guide I wish we all could live by. This would make life so much easier! This is why I prefer working with dogs more than people. Thank you

    • Dr. Ryan Llera

      October 4, 2015 at 11:53 am

      Thank you Esther. Dogs as spiritual guides? I never thought of it that way but I see your point. I would love to have actual verbal conversations with my patients as well just to know what they’re thinking and what I could do to make things better for them; sometimes our instincts aren’t enough and it takes more work to get them back on track.

  5. Ryan and Jennifer …. I am so sorry.
    Charlie was not only a special dog, he was a lucky one. He had an amazing life with you, and there can be no regrets in a life well loved. He was blessed, and he blessed in return. He will not be forgotten.
    Run free, Charlie. You were loved. You will be missed.
    You were a good boy.

    • Dr. Ryan Llera

      October 4, 2015 at 11:44 am

      Thank you Karen. I’m not sure how much running Charlie is doing; he was always more of a wanderer and liked to sample whatever may have been left in the yard by other critters 😉 We have no regrets and I will always have a place in my heart for him.

  6. Beautiful lessons from a handsome dog. The Farley Foundation has such a wonderful mission too, a day doesn’t go by that I’m not privileged to see the power of friendship that pets often give to people, especially those in their golden years, who sometimes struggle to give their pets all they want as they encounter unexpected expenses and challenges for their own health. Thank you for sharing this.

    • Dr. Ryan Llera

      September 30, 2015 at 9:48 am

      Thank you for your comments! I was partly motivated to do this by your own post reflecting on Quinny and your PetYourPet4Charity post. I’m so happy that we have The Farley Foundation here in Ontario and I’m hopeful that as time goes on, we can get them more exposure and support so they can do more.

  7. A beautiful post!! You must both miss Charlie so much. You gave each other so much love. 🙂

    • Dr. Ryan Llera

      October 4, 2015 at 11:42 am

      Thank you Natalie. We do miss him but we are at peace and were just so glad to be able to have as much time as we did.

  8. Ryan,

    So sorry to hear about Charlie. Losing a furry family member is never easy, but it sounds like he had a wonderful life with you. And thank you so much for your support of the Farley Foundation! Your contribution will help deserving pet owners to obtain veterinary care for their own beloved pets, helping them to have a chance to learn the life lessons you’ve so elegantly highlighted in your blog.

    • Dr. Ryan Llera

      October 13, 2015 at 10:17 pm

      Hi Doug! Thank you for your kind words. I believe in the Farley Foundation’s mission and I know it has benefited a few of my clients. Giving back is one small thing I can do to help build & preserve that bond between people and their pets! With this post, I think the lessons will live on well past Charlie & I so that others will continue to get something from it.

  9. Thank you for writing this, and for your heart for animals. Charlie and you were blessed to have had one another, and I can’t wait ’til we can be reunited with all those whom we have loved and lost. Great post, and am sharing! (Hugs)

    • Dr. Ryan Llera

      October 13, 2015 at 9:58 pm

      Thank you Jen! I look forward to the day I’m reunited with all my furry companions as I think they make our lives whole so it makes sense that being together forever would be great!

  10. I have read and shared. I said goodbye to my lovely Jaime one year ago. Sick of being sad for so long, I rescued a lovely little girl who was at risk in a kill shelter in Kentucky. My Jaime taught me a lot over the years. Now my Annie continues to teach me. She came from a horrible situation, but she is still full of love and greets every new day with enthusiasm and love. Love changes everything! It really does! So sorry for your loss.??

    • Dr. Ryan Llera

      October 13, 2015 at 10:14 pm

      Thank you Donna for your words, for reading, & for sharing. It warms my heart to hear of the love you have shared with your Jaime and now Annie and in turn that you have learned some life lessons from them. Love is all we need sometimes!

  11. I’m truly sorry for your loss.
    My husband always says that our old dog, Fritz, is up in heaven advocating for us.
    I bet Charlie is doing the same for you.

    • Dr. Ryan Llera

      October 22, 2015 at 10:26 am

      Thank you Karen. I agree with your husband that our pups are looking out for us. Their effect on us certainly helps put a bright spot in my day when I stop to think about Charlie. I did have a client once who had died and was brought back after 25 minutes. He told me in that time he saw his dog from when he was a younger man so I believe they are waiting for us.

  12. I can totally understand how much you miss Charlie. We lost our 2 labs this year 6 mos apart to cancer, both rescues. In memory of them I am now a foster mom for a dog rescue.

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