Lessons from an Old Dog

Gayle_BozemanFamilyChristian_smallThis post by Gayle M. Irwin

My cocker spaniel Cody turns 17 years old on June 10th. There have been numerous times in the past few years, even in the last several months, when my husband and I didn’t think he’d survive. He’s torn his ACL, he’s suffered an internal virus that required IV treatments, and he’s stopped eating for days. His bottom teeth are gone and it’s difficult for him to get food down. The old fella has become a picky eater, too, scarfing up bacon one day and refusing it the next, or eating chicken in the morning and turning his nose up at the same chicken that same night. I know the older people get the more picky they can become about food, too, but not eating leads to losing weight and getting weaker – so we do everything we can to “coddle” the oldster to keep weight from dropping too much and keep as much strength going as possible.

Cody is not the oldest pet I’ve had. Before this precocious cocker spaniel I had Ama the cat. A princess of a girl, I adopted her years before meeting my husband. She was believed to be about two years old in 1990 when I adopted her. Ama lived to be more than 18 years old, succumbing to kidney failure in late 2006.

gayle and sage_smallerSage, the sweet, blind springer spaniel my husband and I adopted in 2001, shared our home and hearts for more than 11 years, living to be 12 ½ years of age. Her swift, unexpected passing in 2012 tore us up. Sage has been gone from this earth for more than three years, but hardly a day goes by that I don’t miss her. I especially miss her when I visit schools. I spent all of Monday at a local elementary school, presenting to Kinders, first graders, third graders, and fifth graders. I talked about writing and shared some of my pet stories with the kids; I also talked about things we enjoy as individuals, whether music, sports, dance, or animals. I told them about Sage and other pets that have shared my life. Mary, the dog we adopted a year after Sage passed, turned nine this year. Our two cats will soon be ten years old. All of my pets are considered “seniors” because of their age.

murphy and bailey2There’s a lot we can learn from an old dog or cat. Here are a few things:

  1. Don’t expend energy on trivial things – it’s a waste of time and effort.
  2. Keep the “baddies” at bay – make noise at the negative to chase it away.
  3. Love and appreciate your friends and family.
  4. Be careful what you stick your nose into – some stuff isn’t good for you.
  5. Take walks, even short ones – breathe the fresh air, smell the blooming flowers, take notice of the animals around you, and smile at the sunshine! Oh, and run in the rain (if you can – otherwise, just stand in it for a few moments and enjoy the cleanliness of a refreshing shower!)
  6. Rest – it’s as needed for your health as walking.
  7. Travel when you can – there’s so much to experience, even in one’s older age.
  8. Use all your senses – one day you may not be able to hear or to see, so soak everything up in every way possible (smell and touch are great ways to “observe” and “learn” just as is hearing and sight).
  9. Enjoy the blessings of today – there may not be a tomorrow.

Theo in CarJust as we can learn from the wisdom of older people, we can also learn from old dogs and cats – if only we’d open our hearts to what these wonderful creatures can teach us. I transported a five-year-old Boston terrier for a rescue organization on Sunday, helping him get to his new home. Seeing his excitement for the travel and the openness of his heart to loving his new “special person” made me smile. I love rescuers and adopters – I wish there wasn’t so much need for either but there is and thankfully, many people heed the call. I do what I can, such as transport and educate, and one day I hope to do more (unless, miraculously, there isn’t a need by that time!) It SO WARMS my heart to read and to witness “good stories”, such as this one about a man who adopted an eight-week-old puppy and kept the dog all of his life. Then, as the dog’s quality of life dwindled, the man didn’t abandon the old dog or stick it in a shelter, as many people do; instead, the man took his dog on a trip of a lifetime, like having “a bucket list,” visiting places he wanted to share with his dog. Read the wonderful, heart-warming story and see the moving photos at https://gma.yahoo.com/york-man-takes-dying-dog-bucket-list-adventure-173209101.html.

Cody walking roadI wish I had the time and money to do such a thing with Cody; alas, I don’t, but we are spending time at our cabin, a place my old friend truly enjoys, and a place my sweet Sage also relished. In July Greg and I plan to take Cody and Mary for a visit to Yellowstone, providing Cody makes it until then. Each morning I check to make sure he is still breathing; one day I may find he’s not. I will be quite sad, of that there is no doubt, but the memories of the years shared will be savored. And the lessons Cody has taught me, the lessons all my pets have taught me, will remain in my heart, mind, and soul … and these are things I can, and do, share with others … just like I’m doing in this post.

Whether you have a furry friend or not (and I hope you do!), may you find beauty in life around you, in nature, in people, in yourself, and in the work (and writing) you do!



Cody_GayleGayle M. Irwin is writer, author and speaker. She is the author of several inspiring dog books for children and adults, including Sage’s Big Adventure, Walking in Trust: Lessons Learned with My Blind Dog, and two dog devotion books: Devotions for Dog Lovers: Paws-ing for Time with God and Devotions for Dog Lovers 2: Sage Advice. She is also a contributing writer to five editions of Chicken Soup for the Soul, including The Dog Did What?, released August 2014. She’s also authored a guidebook for owners of blind dogs, available on Kindle. She has a passion for pets and volunteers for and donates a percentage of her writing revenues to several animal welfare organizations. Her speaking engagements include presentations for children and adults about the lessons people can learn from pets. Visit her website at www.gaylemirwin.com.

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