This post by Gayle M. Irwin
“The road to my heart is paved in pawprints.” Such a sign hangs on our livingroom wall. No truer words were ever written or spoken when it comes to this lady. Since I was a child, animals have captured my heart, from dogs and cats to zebras and koalas. As a youngster and then a teenager, I collected posters of animals, in particular the exotics that I’d never see in the wild, such as tigers and mountain lions. I was a big cat fan, both wild ones and domestic ones, for most of my younger years. But after I raised my second dog from a puppy when I was a teen, both cats and dogs became my focus, and I’ve been loving them and helping them ever since.
On Thursday, my husband and I said goodbye to Cody, our nearly 18-year-old cocker spaniel we adopted in 2008. Friends of ours bid farewell to one of their beloved dogs this past week as well. Needless to say, it’s been a sad week. Had Cody lived until March, it would have been eight years since I saw him in a cage at the Casper Humane Society and a week later, adopted him – the best birthday present I ever had!
Cody fit well into our little family of two cats and a blind dog. Sage, our springer at the time, was a year younger than Cody, and though she and the cats had a bit of a struggle adjusting to this new dog (Cody chased the cats constantly for a few months, until one day, our black and white Murphy slapped him in the face), the three other pets and Cody settled into a much better relationship over time. From these experiences came my children’s books Sage Learns to Share and Sage Finds Friends. Cody also inspired Cody’s Cabin: Life in a Pine Forest. For years to come, readers of these books will be impacted by Cody, Sage, and my cats, Murphy and Bailey.
Over the years, I’ve learned much from animals, and I share those in my writing and speaking endeavors. So, here is a little tribute to Cody and to all pets who touch our lives on the lessons they teach us.
- Courage – Sage was lost for three days in the woods. Blind and alone, she survived in an area where black bears and mountain lions reside. Although I’ll never know exactly how, except for the grace of a loving Creator, she lived through the experience, and Greg and I were able to find her and bring her home safe. From that spawned Sage’s Big Adventure – Living with Blindness, a story that has captured the hearts of both children and adults, and reminds us all that animals are brave and they have value, no matter their abilities or disabilities – and that lesson applies to people as well.
- Tenacity – Again, Sage’s life is such a testimony, so is Cody’s. He lived to nearly 18 years of age, something not a lot of dogs do. He had major health issues, starting at about age 13, including nearly dying from an autoimmune disease. But, he rebounded, and he pushed through the many health setbacks thereafter. His heart remained strong to the very end, one of the reasons making that “tough decision” this week was even more difficult. However, his other issues, including kidney and liver failure and painful cornea problems, were too much for his aging body to tackle, and ultimately the reasons the vet said, “It’s time.”
- Friendship – Dogs and cats, and other pets, give us the ultimate friendship: devotion and love with no strings attached (well, except for food and shelter!). I’ve never known a human to wait at the door or window for me to come home – not even my husband or parents do that! That wagging tail, excited bark, rub against the leg and meow from my cats … each and every warm greeting is the ultimate in faithfulness and friendship as is the lying by my side when I’m sick or a head on the knee when I’m discouraged. Our friends’ dog, Chewy, was certified as a pet therapy animal, as is our Mary- together, we visited nursing homes and libraries, sharing information about animals and providing smiles to both children and the elderly. Pets give us the best gift in life: themselves.
There are so many other lessons we learn and gifts we are given by our pets, but these three to me rate at the top.
There is also the lesson in loss/grief. When Sage passed four years come March, Cody and the cats gathered around her on that final night. Greg and I weren’t the only ones crying. For days afterward, Cody searched for her. Mary has looked for Cody both inside and outside the house these past few days. I’m thankful Greg and I had Cody during the time we lost Sage and I’m thankful we now have Mary. Because of Mary, whom we adopted three years ago this month, I truly believe Cody lived as long as he did, for his health, both physically and emotionally, went down dramatically after Sage’s passing. Mary perked up our then 13-year-old boy and they spent many hours in the backyard, going for walks, and exploring the forest about our mountain cabin. We are dealing with the loss of Cody alongside our Mary-dog, and though the hole is deep, I know his life was good, especially these past 7.75 years with Greg and me. He was loved and cared for and he gave love and caring in return. Another lesson: sharing, the sharing of affection, of time, of caring and compassion, of experiences.
I am thankful to God for the gift of my pets, each and every one, from my childhood days to middle age years. I am also thankful for the gift of writing, the passion for writing, and the desire to share the lessons and joys of having pets. Although Sage and Cody are both gone from this earth, their legacy lives on in my books and stories, so through my grief I find joy and gratitude. My heart certainly has pawprints etched all through it!
What pawprints have been left on your heart and what lessons have you learned from animals?
Gayle M. Irwin is a writer, author and speaker. She is the author of several inspirational dog books for children and adults, including Sage’s Big Adventure, Walking in Trust: Lessons Learned with My Blind Dog, and Cody’s Cabin: Life in a Pine Forest. She’s also composed two dog devotion books: Devotions for Dog Lovers: Paws-ing for Time with God and Devotions for Dog Lovers 2: Sage Advice. Her latest work is a children’s book called Sage Finds Friends and she is also a contributing writer to five editions of Chicken Soup for the Soul, including The Dog Did What?. 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.