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.

SageBigAdventureFront-small   SageLearnsShareFront-small   Dog Devotion Book_Cover_Final   Dog Devotions 2 Book Cover Sage Advice Cover   Blind Dog Ebook Cover_updatedMay2014   Walking_FrontCover_small


19 thoughts on “Lessons from an Old Dog

  1. Such a beautiful tribute! People who don’t love animals the way we do just don’t understand that they are more than pets–they are our four-legged family. They bring us joy and drive us crazy and we love them just like another relative. And when we lose them, we mourn, sometimes for a long time.

    Your words brought back memories of all the dogs and cats I’ve had over the years. So many special memories. Thank you so much.


    1. Thank you, Joe, for your comments — I’m glad you have many special memories of pets and I truly share your feelings about them being like family with all the wonder, joy, and challenges of family. My house is not a home without pets! 🙂


  2. Gayle, You can tell a lot about a person by the way they treat animals. I can tell you really are a special person. As I read your post my dog Val was laying by my chair. She’s 12 1/2 now and has some medical issues, but embraces each day with and us with a happy disposition.


    1. Many times when I’m in my office there is at least one of my pets with me — they share our homes and our hearts, and for me at least, make life much better. I’m glad you and Val have one another to take care and spend time with — may you both enjoy a very blessed day and many more years together. Thanks for stopping by and commenting, S.J.. 🙂


  3. Like you I’ve been blessed to share my life with many ‘friends’, some who left early and others like my Samantha, who stayed for 24. They teach us patience, give us love and what fun we have together. I’m so happy you’ve been able to share such times with Cody and Sage and all the others. They give so much, and in turn we try to give back a portion of what we’ve reveived. Lovely tribute. Doris


    1. Oh, yes, SO BLESSED! 🙂 Even sharing life for 12+ years is often not enough, but what special memories I have! And how my life would be “less” because they weren’t part of it. Thank you, Doris, for your kind comments; I so appreciate our “kindred spirit!” 🙂


  4. What a lovely post, Gayle. Your pets are well-loved ad in return they love you back. It’s hard to think about our beloved pets growing old, but there are so many memories to look back on. You are so selfless and giving and the world needs more people like you. My sincere hope is that Cody makes it for the trip to Yellowstone for one last special moment.


    1. I am honored by your words, Linda! I SO WISH I could do more to help these creatures in need. As I drove home from Sheridan on Sunday, after depositing Theo into the loving arms of his new family, I literally prayed to win the lottery so I could do such transports more often and could do so much more to help animals in need. We’ll see what Wednesday night brings when Lotto officials announce the winning numbers! LOL 🙂 Meantime, I do what I can and pray others step forward to help as well. May you and your your special 4-footed friend (and your hubby!) enjoy a blessed summer together!


  5. Dogs are wonderful. We sure got a good scar with Tootsie, and I shared on facebook the rocks they removed from her bladder. I was so shocked. No more table scraps for her, and we didn’t give her many. I don’t know what she ate in the 5 years before we got her. She’s laying close to me as I type this. She doesn’t complain, but I’m sure she’s sore. I praise God that she let me see that she was having problems and we got them fixed. Gayle, I know you are trying to prepare yourself, but I don’t think you can. Glad you love your babes so much. Cher’ley


    1. Cher’ley, I saw your FB post and my heart went out to you and Tootsie; I am praying for her complete recovery. When we rescue a pet, through a group or through a shelter, we never know their complete, truthful history, but we love them anyway and give them a new, better future. We didn’t know Sage was going blind until she’d been with us a month’ish, and the shock was deep-felt. But, oh, how I cherish those years with her!! I am very pleased with how many years we’ve had Cody, because I truly expected just a few, but I was going to make them the best few years possible! And, it must have worked for him to still be with us much longer! I am truly thankful.


  6. I know it gives you a lot of satisfaction to play a part in the pet rescue. And I know you make a difference in kids lives too with your school visits. You are a special person. And people who know the joy of pets and love them, are special in God’s book too. Thanks for being who you are. Great post about all your furry friends!


  7. Soon as I saw your headline I knew it was about Cody. I’ve had quite a few cats; Bobby Girl lived to be 14, the oldest I’ve had. A friend of mine, Jayne, had a long-furred white kitty — Mama Kitty — who lived to be 21. When Jayne moved up to North Carolina in the late ’80s, Mama Kitty stayed with her mom in Central Florida. One day her mom went out to the side door to feed Mama Kitty and found her dead next to her food bowl.


  8. You’ve come to know my pets well, Mike! LOL 21 — that’s quite amazing! A friend of mine in Casper has a dog that’s nearly 21; I’ve rarely heard of a dog living that long. That’s the difficult part about pet ownership — we know we will lose them one day. But, for the time they are with us, what joy and fun they are! (and educational!!)


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