Since it was National Dog Day this week, I’m celebrating the pet who rocked my lifetime. Have you had one of those? The kind of pet who’s a member of the family, and who is mourned long after they’re gone?
Hoshi was everything a dog should be: loyal, loving, sweet-tempered, funny. She totally laughed at my jokes and she was around for all my big “life milestones.”
And then one day, 17 days after my daughter was born, Hoshi let me know it was time to go. There are so many up sides to pet ownership, but the biggest downside in my opinion is their short life span.
They will always go before we do. Dammit.
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. The memories, and the lessons you learned from them, are what help you get through it.
Here’s the Top 10 lessons my Hoshi-Moshi taught me.
(Now everyone go hug your pets!)
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 they’re sniffing every bush, light pole and dog bootie on the block but in reality what they’re doing is “filling the well.” You need to do it too (the well-filling, not the sniffing).
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, especially this time of year, it’s easy to let the small simple gifts in our world pass through unnoticed.
One of my dearest friends has tons of 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.
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. You’ll know when you need it by the way your family rolls their eyes.
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.
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. 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.
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.
The money and time you put into learning 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. You’ll know your service opportunity when you see it if you’re on the lookout.
10) Leave People Smiling
Like I said, during my second week home after having my daughter, Hoshi let me know it was her time to go. She’d limped along health-wise through my high-risk pregnancy. 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 (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. She 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.’
Hoshi was my first “baby girl” and I feel blessed to have learned from her.
Now it’s your turn to celebrate your fur babies in the comments.
International Business Times shows their picks for “the Top 5 Dog Stories of the Year.”
Do you have pets? What lessons have they taught you? Enquiring minds LOVE to know these things here at More Cowbell!