10 Life List Club Lessons I Learned From My Dog

Today is Life List Friday and there’s a whole lot of blog hopping going on (click on the Life List Club names in the right sidebar to start browsing).

I’m over at David N. Walker’s place today with Dreams: The Fear Factor. Emily Moir had some major life stuff get in the way for today so she’s gonna be here next Friday, all on her own, with a really cute post called “Me and the Cartoon Fish.”

What is the Life List Club?

The best definition of The Life List can be found here. The Life List Club is about connecting, and publicly stating some life goals you’d like to accomplish over the next 12 months (for me that will be next 4th of July). It’s about encouraging others in their goals.

Be sure to visit all Life List Club blog hop sites – these hops are every other Friday! Click here for my last LLC post on Gene Lempp’s site called Playing To Your Strengths.

One big bonus of The Life List Club is the incentive to prioritize our life goals to help us achieve the dreams that are important to us. (My goals can be found here.) There was one goal that I couldn’t even bear to list — it was too painful — but it’s been hanging over my head.

Do you have things like that? Tasks that you dread and dread. Then you do them, and it is such a relief. Last week, I did a very emotional task that I’d been putting off for months. I finally went to the Doggie Mortuary and picked up my Hoshi’s ashes.

That’s her below…isn’t she a sweetie pie?

I can’t even explain why it took me more than a year, but I simply could not face it. In honor of achieving this goal, and as a thank you to the Life List club, I’m reposting a revamped version of my “Ode to Hoshi” that I wrote last Spring.

Enjoy this list about my Hoshi…she was everything a dog should be: loyal, loving, sweet-tempered, funny. She got my jokes (I swear that dog laughed) and she was around for all my big milestones.

All the pet-lovers out there can attest to the up sides to pet ownership – companionship, exercise, preventative healthcare – but the biggest down side in my opinion is their short life span.

They will always go before we do – there’s just no way to get around it. Hoshi lived a stupendously long life for a 90 pound dog; she was fourteen-and-a-half years old when she left to frolic in that Puppy Lake in the Sky.

It’s never easy to say goodbye to a loved one, animal or human. I swear, the memories and the lessons you learned from them are all that help you through it. Below are the Top Ten lessons Hoshi taught me, many of which relate to writing.

1) 50 New Smells A Day

It’s said that dogs need to get fifty new smells a day to stay psychologically alert and happy. Those daily walks are your dog’s version of reading the paper. I know it looks like they’re sniffing every bush, light pole and dog booty on the block “just because” but in reality what they’re doing is “filling the well.”

Writers must do the same thing (though I’d recommend keeping your nose to yourself). Stimulate your mind daily with whatever helps you be creative.

2) Pay Attention

Take notice of the people, places and things in your life that fill your writing well. With the plethora of daily tasks on all our to-do lists, it’s easy to let the small simple gifts in our world pass through unnoticed.

3) Treats Help Everything

One of my dearest friends has seven pets and, according to her, “any one of her dogs would step over her bloody carcass for one bite of kibble.” (If you have dogs like hers, you might want to skip to #4.)

I’m not suggesting that you allow either you or your pet to get too fluffy in the backside but the world is better with steady rewards of coffee, chocolate, wine, cake or whatever treat that says, “Well done!” to you.

Positive reinforcement works on us writers too.

4) Smile and Wag

What happens when your dog bounds across the room with a smile and a wag of his or her tail and slides under your hand? You pet them, and coo over them, AND YOU SMILE. It’s hard to resist your pet when they’re sweet.

Try to remember this concept when you’re buried up to your eyebrows in that saggy middle of your first draft. Your family (and your editor) will give you much more leeway if you smile and wag rather than bark and growl. I’m just sayin…

5) Find the best professionals (and trust them)

When Hoshi turned eight, she began to get creaky with arthritis. Akita lifespans average about 10 years so I started getting mentally prepared (though, let’s face it, you never are).

My girlfriend, Mary, who’s a dog trainer, heard my concerns and sent me to Dr. Voll. A few visits with this wonderful vet and Hoshi was a whole new girl. Certainly, we did our part, but Dr. Voll took care of Hoshi for almost seven years and went well above the call of duty.

Whenever the inevitable ups and downs of a senior dog would occur, I’d worry that it might be time to let my sweet baby dog go. On one of those bad days, Dr. Voll looked me in the eye and said, “Stop crying! I’ll tell you when it’s time.” And she did.

6) Love Without Conditions

I don’t have to explain this one to any pet owners. Dogs don’t see disabilities, disfigurement, neuroses or any of the other things that tend to squeeze the human brain down the narrow path of judgment. Animals manage to see inside your heart and make their decisions from there.

Try to do this with yourself – this self-love will only make you a better writer. You’ve heard the saying, “I want to be the person my dog thinks I am,” right? Enough said.

7) Bring Your “A” Game

It’s not in a dog’s nature to give 50%, at least it wasn’t in Hoshi’s. She traveled the entire West Coast, San Diego to Seattle, and explored every dog beach and mountain range with the same focused zeal.

I’m a software trainer by day and, after September 11th the training projects in Southern California dried up. In 2002, if I wanted work, the dog and I had to hit the road. We traveled throughout the state, stopping at every available doggie day care along the way and, whether it was Elaine’s Pet Resorts in Fresno or Fog City Doggie Day Care in San Francisco, that dog brought her A-Game. In turn, these places delighted in her visits and always made room for her even when they were full.

If we bring our A-Game to the page as writers, people (read: publishers) will make time for our work, even when they’re busy. It might just be critique partners or published authors in your writing chapter giving you time at first but, at some point, your writing will be recommended and you will sell.

8) Invest In Training

One of my ex-boyfriends owned Hoshi’s parents – she and her four litter mates were literally born into my hands. Unfortunately, this guy went to the “Well, they mind ME” school of training.

This wasn’t so bad with Hoshi’s sire, who had an even temperament, but her mother was a really bad dog and it became a dicey business to have anyone in our house. I began training all five puppies, almost before their eyes opened, in an attempt to counteract the unruly bitchiness of their mother.

This kind of rigorous training opened a lot of doors for Hoshi. A well-trained dog is a well-received dog and the same goes for writers. The money and time you put into learning your craft will always be worth it.

9) Service Makes You Feel Good

One of the happiest dogs I know is a Corgi named Boris. His owner, Monique is extremely disabled and gets around mostly by scooter. Mary (the dog trainer from #5 above) has taught Boris to fetch Monique’s keys, her shoes, the paper, and a myriad of other items. Like every pet, Boris thinks his owner is a rock star – he lives to serve Monique and nothing makes him happier than making her happy.

I’m not suggesting that you throw yourself on the altar of someone else’s happiness but I am recommending that you give back. If you are unpublished that might mean guest blogs or judging in a contest. For published authors, it might mean the same or perhaps giving away a chapter critique.

You’ll know your service opportunity when you see it if you’re on the lookout.

10) Leave People Smiling

I realized during my second week home after having my daughter that it was Hoshi’s time to go. She’d limped along health-wise through my pregnancy, which was very high risk. I really thought she’d miss the birth but she rallied.

Dr. Voll came when I called her and agreed that it was “time,” though she said I could take a few days. I contacted all of Hoshi’s friends and opened the house for anyone who wanted to visit. We gave her every treat we had, plus people brought her scads of contraband food. Things like McDonald’s cheeseburgers that give a dog pancreatitis were on the menu that week and she was delighted (though I definitely got the “where has this been all my life” look).

On the big day, Dr. Voll came to the door and we sent our daughter out with a friend for a long walk so we could focus on Hoshi. That doggie polished off the rest of a cheeseburger and moved on to the Honeybaked ham, smiling and wagging all the way. When the medicine was administered, she never knew it.

I’ve repeatedly thought ‘we should all be so lucky.’

Watching a 4th of July Concert with Daddy

Hoshi was my first “baby girl” and I feel blessed to have learned from her.

What lessons have your pets taught you? Are there tasks you’ve been putting off? What helps you get through your emotionally-charged to-do’s? Enquiring minds always want to know here at More Cowbell!


Attention: Writers! A writer who would like to become a contributor at The Life List Club, guest posting with us, please contact Marcia Richards: marichards320 AT yahoo.com or Jess Witkins: jessi.witkins AT gmail.com. At this time, the Life List Club accepts one new contributing writer per month. (I’m so honored to be the August addition!) Membership is open to all – just state your goals publicly on your site and come see us on Twitter at #LifeListClub.

About Jenny Hansen

Avid seeker of "more"...More words, more creativity, More Cowbell! An extrovert who's terribly fond of silliness. Founding blogger at Writers In The Storm (http://writersinthestormblog.com). Write on!
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29 Responses to 10 Life List Club Lessons I Learned From My Dog

  1. catwoods says:

    We have a new sock-eating pup who treat cotton footwear like crack for dogs. Ironically, eating them makes her extremely sick.

    Lesson learned: balance. Even if we are passionate about writing, we still need to feed and attend to the other loves in our lives because sometimes too much of one thing becomes destructive.

    Great post.


  2. Natalie says:

    I cried! What a beautiful post. My baby girl is my world as well. At 10 years old, we’ve been watching her start to show signs of aging and with a knee surgery, I know I need to make the most of the next few years. She has taught me so much about unconditional love, loyalty, patience, and pure joy!


    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Holy cow, I got tears?? Thanks for the huge compliment, Natalie. Those senior years are so precious. For us, some weight loss, Adequan, Rimadyl and underwater treadmill did the trick. She lived another 6 years, and was fairly pain free.


  3. Gene Lempp says:

    I am now going to walk around sniffing random objects. “Well Jen said I could” *smile*

    Great post, Jen!


  4. hawleywood40 says:

    What a beautiful post. As a pet lover, I could so relate to this. I always say that what my ferret Vin Weasel teaches me every day is that when life gets tough, you gotta make time to do the “weasel war dance.” I can’t look in his cute little face and NOT see the awesomeness of life. What a wonderful tribute to your Hoshi!


  5. Marcia says:

    A beautiful tribute, Jenny! I’ve outlived many, many pets and find it hearrtbreaking to let them go, but go they must. Fortunately, there can be a new one to help fill the emptiness and make us smile again. Hoshi was a gorgeous dog and she’ll send you a new friend one day.


  6. amyshojai says:

    Thank you for this post–again. We learn so much from our pets–they truly are “other nations” and worthy of our love. You’ve honored Hoshi with a most beautiful tribute. I’ve no doubt she’s smiling!


  7. It took me a while to respond to this, Jen. It brought back many fond memories of two special dogs I’ve had in my life (now in doggie heaven), and our two LOVELY Yellow labs.

    When my first “baby” left me, I wrote a cathartic piece about the life we shared. My biggest take-away from that is that God sometimes puts things in our lives we don’t deserve to have. What did I DO to deserve the adoration Chipper gave me?

    Sherry said something once that reminds me of the piece I wrote,: “Don’t grieve that it’s over. Celebrate the fact that it happened.”

    I think I’ll toss the tennis ball for The Girls today. Do something to deserve that smile they get when they see me. GREAT article.


  8. Fantastic post! Our four-legged friends definitely have a lot to teach us. I especially loved the “filling the well” suggestion. Didn’t know that dogs need 50 new smells a day. That explains why my dogs get so excited on walks or just running in the front yard.


  9. My cats have taught me warmth and comfort can be found if you look hard enough.


  10. Jess Witkins says:

    Another lovely post, Jenny. First of all, Hoshi is gorgeous. What a beautiful dog, I’m glad Hoshi could share with us all of some valuable life lessons. I like all the smile reminders and INVEST IN TRAINING. 🙂


  11. Jenny Hansen says:

    Thanks, Jess! She was such a sweet girl. 🙂


  12. I swore I wasn’t going to cry, now here I am. This post is a loving tribute to your wonderful Hoshi. I’m glad you were finally able to get her ashes. It is never easy to lose a pet but they make life so much richer and teach what is important I can’t imagine being without their companionship.

    They make me laugh, make me cry and everything in between. Now I’ve got to go get some tissues because you evidentally have the same effect.


    • Jenny Hansen says:

      I know she enjoyed hanging out with all the other dogs, but I do feel better now that she’s home with us. Of course every time we take a walk, I have to pet every dog we meet and get my fix in. 🙂


  13. I have to admit I got a little sniffly. I feel the need to hug my dog and take her on a walk. She’s getting on in years and my heart breaks every time she shows signs of her advanced years. I love that Hoshi got cheeseburgers before she went. What a sweet and loving way for her to go.


  14. Your pet taught me a lot of things. Thank you, Hoshi!


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  16. Catie Rhodes says:

    You touched my heart. We had to put our beloved Pomeranian Angel to sleep in April. Hardest thing I ever did, but–like you and Hoshi–my Angel taught me so much about life. Much of it was what you said here, which I couldn’t have put more eloquently.

    The dog is a gentleman. I hope to go to his heaven, not man’s. –Mark Twain


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