Lessons learned from an old dog

We were there at the end with our old Labrador retriever. We watched with sadness as the injection took hold. There, on the floor of our veterinarian’s office, we gently stroked her glistening black coat and watched her face tighten as she took her last breath.

We then cried more – for the sweet-faced puppy we once knew and the old dog that she had become. And we wept for all the little joys that would no longer be part of our daily lives.

Yesterday was a hard day.

On that day, as Jenn dealt with our loss, she asked me, “Why would anyone ever have a dog?”

What she meant was why would anyone ever subject themselves to so profound a loss. For when you get a dog, you do so expecting that one day you will face this moment.

I have given this some thought.

There are so many reasons. Primarily, we have dogs because of the joy they fetch into our lives. And because they have a knack for making us put aside the stress and all the sadness that life heaps upon us.

To a dog, no matter your station in life, you are the most important thing in the world. And they are, at heart, incredibly kind to us. Every dog I have ever had has caused me to wish that we will one day meet again.

In fact, I sometimes think they were created to make us better.

In their own way, they educate us in the things that we need to be reminded of.

They demonstrate that each day should be welcomed. That you should take great comfort in your pack. That every outing can and should be an adventure. That every couch and snack should be shared. That it is OK to be joyous at mealtime or howl at the moon. They teach us to marvel at the sights, smells and sounds of the outdoors. They remind us that burrs eventually come out and that scars can and will heal. That honesty is simple. That trust is earned. That love and kindness can be conveyed in a look. That bad days can be forgotten and that each new one has the potential to be good. They show us we should travel through life with curiosity and a friendly disposition. That service and care of others is its own reward. That everyone deserves a friendly greeting. That we shouldn’t take ourselves too seriously. And that there is dignity in simply being what God made you. And, in the end, that pain and loss can be endured.

But mostly, they have an unrivalled way of exemplifying what friendship truly is. It is in their unconditional love and loyalty, and in the way they know when and how to comfort. A dog lives with and recognizes our flaws and forgives us anyhow. They are, quite simply, creatures who happily give more than they take.

These are the things make the pain of a dog’s loss so unbearable and cause us to question why we would bother to subject ourselves to it. But these are also the things that make owning and properly caring for a dog among the finest and most noble traditions we have.

Millie, our old Labrador retriever, was a fine teacher of all these things – right up until her last laboured breath. And, of course, losing her was painful. Yet even now I have a smile. For not having her for those 13 years would have been far, far worse.

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