Lesson 13: Connect with Animals to find Joy

“Petting, scratching, and cuddling a dog could be as soothing to the mind and heart as deep meditation and almost as good for the soul as prayer.”
– Dean Koontz, American author

I was lucky to be brought up in a home with a dog. Our first dog was Dixie. She was a pure-bred collie we got in Virginia, a southern US state. Hence, the name Dixie. She used to chase me around the house or I chased her. Can’t remember which anymore. I do remember I liked to put on my blue overall snow pants when we would do our chasing game. Not sure why this was so important to me but I still remember hearing the swish, swish, swish of the pant legs brushing up against each other as I ran through the den, sun room, living room and front hall to chase her or be chased in an endless circle.

We also had dogs in the neighborhood. One nearby neighbor had a German Shepherd named Goliath. This dog followed me everywhere I went. His owner was a kind divorced woman who let him roam the neighborhood during the day while she was out at work. She didn’t lock her front door either so Goliath could jump on it and push it open when he wanted to go back into the house. Goliath had free roam of the neighborhood.

Many times, he would get let into our house by one of my parents or one of the four of us children. Then he would go upstairs to my parent’s bedroom and jump out one of the windows onto the roof. This slightly slanted roof over our sunroom faced the street. So, when Goliath would jump out there on hot summer days to survey the neighborhood, we would have people driving by abruptly stop their cars in a panic to run up to the house and yell, “Your dog is on the roof!” We would just say, “It’s not our dog.” And that didn’t know what to say to that, so they would just walk away shaking their heads.

Goliath would also follow me to what we called the “five and ten” general store on Central Street in Evanston, Illinois. It was almost a mile away from our house. But Goliath would follow me there, crossing six or seven streets and walking just behind me. He was like my personal guardian. When I would go into the five and ten store to look for inexpensive things to buy, like cheap toys or candy, he would follow me in there too. The owner would say, “You can’t bring your dog in here.” And I would reply: “He’s not my dog.” Goliath wasn’t my dog but he sure was my devoted friend.

Later, when I was married to Rick and our boys were six and nine, we got our first family dog. She was a yellow Labrador retriever we named Molly. She was such a loveable dog who let the boys dress her up in Chicago Bears and Chicago Bulls sports jerseys. Our boys, Alex and Andy, liked to sleep on her body while watching TV and she never objected. She never growled and rarely barked. My husband said that if a burglar ever came to the house, she would just wag her tail and show him around. Once we had to take her to the vet for what he called “happy tail syndrome.” That’s when a dog wags her tail so much that the tip of it bleeds from hitting things.

Molly sleeping with Alex
Andy sleeping with Molly

We all loved her very much and she loved us. She would always greet us at the door when we came home, wagging her tail vigorously. One of her favorite things to do was lick my husband’s face. He liked that too. Ten years of joy later, when she got sick and I took her to the vet, we were all shocked and very sad when he told us she had bleeding tumors around her heart, and it was making it hard for her to breathe. She had congestive heart failure and he said the best thing we could do was let her go because she would be suffering otherwise. This was very upsetting, and we all cried. As anyone who has ever loved an animal knows, the pain of losing him or her is very real and should never be minimized or dismissed with statements like “It’s just an animal” Or “Get over it.”

We had a funeral service for Molly and buried her ashes and collar in our backyard in a ceramic bowl one of my sons had made. We read the Rainbow Bridge poem as part of the service. Its author is unknown.

“Just this side of heaven is a place called Rainbow Bridge.
When an animal dies that has been especially close to someone here, that pet goes to Rainbow Bridge. There are meadows and hills for all our special friends so they can run and play together. There is plenty of food, water and sunshine, and our friends are warm and comfortable.

All the animals who had been ill and old are restored to health and vigor. Those who were hurt or maimed are made whole and strong again, just as we remember them in our dreams of days and times gone by. The animals are happy and content, except for one small thing; they each miss someone very special to them, who had to be left behind.

They all run and play together, but the day comes when one suddenly stops and looks into the distance. His bright eyes are intent. His eager body quivers. Suddenly he begins to run from the group, flying over the green grass, his legs carrying him faster and faster.

You have been spotted, and when you and your special friend finally meet, you cling together in joyous reunion, never to be parted again. The happy kisses rain upon your face; your hands again caress the beloved head, and you look once more into the trusting eyes of your pet, so long gone from your life but never absent from your heart.

Then you cross Rainbow Bridge together….”

Even though we vowed to never get another dog after losing Molly, we couldn’t live without one for too long. So, a few months later, we drove to Save-a-Pet no-kill shelter and came home with an Alaskan Malamute named Sasha. She was a beautiful purebred dog that has been given up for adoption by a woman with three small children. She just felt having to deal with the dog plus all the small children was too much to handle.

Andy with our rescue dog Sasha
Beautiful Sasha the day we brought her home from Save-A-Pet

Sasha was also a mellow dog who never barked or growled. Like Molly, she would have invited in any burglar and showed him around the house. After being specially trained, Sasha became a therapy dog and I took her to a nursing home once a month to visit patients.

This brought the patients a lot of joy, to be able to pet Sasha and talk about the animals they had loved during their lives. Many of these patients were terminally ill so bringing a kind, furry dog to come visit them was a little something I could do to brighten up their days. I remembered with fondness how the hospice allowed both my parents to have their dog come visit them towards the end of their lives.

After Rick and I had both turned sixty, we were ready for a change of venue as our sons had both graduated from college and were now working. So, we decided to move abroad, first to Ireland and ultimately to sunny Spain. As part of the moving process, we had to give up Sasha and that was hard on us. We had rented a house in Ireland and dogs weren’t allowed. Luckily, her new owner took good care of her and loved her as much as we did.

Once we moved to Spain, we decided our house wouldn’t be a home without a dog. Rick also admitted that he wanted another dog to lick his face again! So, we went to a local rescue center called SAT and asked if they had any friendly little dogs that were looking for a home. Out came Tess, a small mixed-breed black and brown terrier. First thing she did was jump up onto the seat where Rick was sitting and lick his face. So that was that! We took her home and never looked back. Unlike Molly and Sasha, Tess likes to bark and wouldn’t be showing any burglars around the house. In fact, whenever she passes a big dog on the street, she almost always barks, just to say, “I am not intimidated by you.” We call this small-dog syndrome.

Rick with Tess on our front porch

Given our ages, Tess is probably the last dog we will ever have. Of course, we said that when Molly died and when we had to let go of Sasha. So, I guess you never know. One thing I am sure about, though, is that dogs are a great source of comfort and joy. They love us unconditionally and that makes them very special indeed.

Life Lesson: Get a pet to love, preferably one from a shelter rather than a pet store or breeder. Dogs are nice and will probably love you from the get-go. Cats typically take longer to warm up to people, but they can be lovely pets too.


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