The top 10 lessons I've learned from my 4 legged friends
I've had the great good fortune to be an animal's human for nearly 26 years and looking back, I can see the many lessons they taught me. I wasn't smart enough to listen at the time, but I think I've gotten better at listening to them. So, without further adieu, here is what I've learned and perhaps you have many other lessons of your own that you've learned from your furry companion.
Dash 1989 - 1999
Dash was my very first pet and she came by her name quite by accident. Back in 1989 I saw her in a pet store and when I held her I noticed that she had a collar on. When I tried looking at it, I could have sworn that the pet shop had already named her Dash. Of course what it said was "DSH" - short for domestic short hair. Ah well....
When I got Dash she was a 5 week old cotton ball. Always a tiny little thing, at her biggest she only weighed 6 lbs. What she lacked in size she made up for in personality and spirit.
Lesson #1 - Life is an adventure.
When I first got Dash, I lived in an apartment with my sister and the only exercise I could give her was to play with her up and down the apartment building hallway. Every so often one of my neighbours would open their door and in Dash would run in to their apartment - completely fearless. Later on when Gary and I had a house in Winnipeg, Dash would think nothing of racing past us once we opened the door and explore the neighbourhood. She once spent an entire night outside - having climbed up on the roof.
Dash taught me to explore and create some adventure in life. She was always eager for new sights and loved her little escapades every now and then.
Lesson #2 - Enjoy the sunshine.
While Dash enjoyed running around the neighbourhood, she also enjoyed a good ray of sunshine. She loved to sit in front of the window keeping an eye outside and living in the moment. She loved to roll around in the sun or curl up if that's what she felt like.
She taught me that all we really have is now. Stop and savour the moment, we can reflect and learn from the past, we can plan for the future but we also need to take time to enjoy "now".
Lesson #3 - Alone time is necessary.
Dash was her own cat. She sought out companionship when she wanted it and she liked her time on her own. She rarely could be persuaded to socialize if she was intent on remaining curled up in her favourite chair.
She taught me that in all the busyness of the day we need to take time for ourselves. Just be in solitude with our own thoughts to get ourselves centred again. Having a moment to just sit and think about whatever pops into your head can be refreshing during a hectic day.
Kayla 1999 - 2014
Kayla is next on the list. Kayla was a rescue from the Winnipeg Humane Society and I believe she picked us more than we picked her. As we wandered through the dog kennel area, while all the other dogs were barking with excitement Kayla just sat there looking at us. As if to say - what are you waiting for? You know I belong with you. And belong she did as we had over 14 years of wonderful memories with her.
She was 6 months old when we got her and as skinny as a rail. She'd been at the shelter for about a month when she found us as she'd been picked up wandering the streets of north Winnipeg. For anyone that knows Winnipeg, you know that this isn't a particularly safe place to be, but we have no idea how long she was out there or how she'd been treated.
Lesson #4 - Go after what you want with gusto.
A high energy dog, Kayla did everything with the full force of her being. If she wanted a cuddle, she'd cuddle with all of her body. When she slept, she slept deeply with active dreams. When she ate her moist food, she ate like there was no other meal coming. When she loved, she loved with all her heart. When she played, she played with all the energy her body gave her.
She taught me that you get more out of life if you do what you want with all that you can. I learned that holding back on emotion or effort was pointless because the only one that was going to lose out was me.
Lesson #5 - Focus on what you want.
In line with lesson #4, when Kayla did something - that's all that she did. In Winnipeg we lived next to a wooded area and we'd often let Kayla off leash so that she could stretch her legs. Stretch her legs she did as she often found a jack rabbit to play with. The fun for Kayla was in the chase and those rabbits liked to lead her on a merry one. But once Kayla got the scent of a rabbit, her ears would go back and she'd be in the "chase" zone. No amount of calling, chastising or frantic actions would call her back.
The rabbits really had nothing to fear. Kayla was completely non aggressive and although fast, never quite fast enough for a rabbit. I remember one time in winter she took off on me and I could see her for a while and then she disappeared. A few minutes later I saw a massive jack rabbit running down the road by the wooded area and a 4 legged critter not too far behind. I even saw the rabbit slow down to give Kayla a chance to catch up only to take off again. Kayla stayed with it until her energy was done.
She taught me to focus. Figure out what you want and focus on getting it. If it's something that you really want, then you owe yourself the best opportunity to go after it with all that you've got. Don't let anyone restrict you or bring you down with their own concerns for your welfare. Remain focused on the end result and if you have to, change the route you were taking to achieve your goal. Just don't stop.
Lesson #6 - Forgive quickly and love unconditionally.
Being the dog that she was, Kayla wanted to know what we were doing all the time and usually participate in it. Sadly, this sometimes got tiresome for me and I would regrettably yell at her or tap her on the nose. I failed to realize that Kayla's uncontrolled exuberance was our fault. We enjoyed the fact that Kayla did everything with gusto but didn't appreciate the flip side to that. We hadn't trained her to be anything but what she was.
The moment the harsh words were out of my mouth I wanted to take them back. I often got down to Kayla's level and begged forgiveness. Without hesitation she'd lick my chin and allow me to give her a great big hug.
It took many many years to learn this lesson and I'm still a work in progress for it. She taught me that holding a grudge only left misery and unhappiness with the grudge bearer. I'm not sure who said this, but I remember someone saying something to the effect that "holding a grudge is a little like drinking poison and expecting the other person to get sick."
With Kayla, forgiving us and loving us unconditionally went hand in hand. She sensed when we were anxious and upset and was always there to cuddle us. She loved us as we are, warts and all.
Persephone Born 2010
Persephone is next up. She is also a rescue from a local shelter out here in Crossfield. I was volunteering at the shelter and was cleaning out the kitten room when all of a sudden she walked right in front of me. Although I'd been working at the shelter for a few weeks I'd never noticed her before. She'd been born there several months earlier but somehow escaped my notice until that morning. The moment I looked at her I knew we'd found what we were looking for.
Lesson #7 - Be brave and expand your comfort zone.
Persephone is a loving but timid cat. I don't know if it's as a result of being born in the shelter or what the reason is, but she likes to think long and hard before taking action. For the first two years we had her, she had no interest in going outside. She loved her big sister Kayla so much though, that when we let Kayla outside for night time ablutions, Persephone would slowly start to follow. We finally got to a point where Kayla would be done and be back inside but Persephone was having a marvelous time chasing the flies and spiders in our backyard.
Persephone teaches me every day the value of going outside my comfort zone. Her life was enriched by going into the back yard and enjoying the fresh air and exercise that brought. She continually amazes me with her confidence at being with her new brother and she gets a lot of joy out of playing with him.
We don't have to make gigantic leaps out of our comfort zone, we can take it little by little until we realize that our comfort zone has now expanded to include more comforts.
Lesson #8 - A cuddle will bring a smile to anyone's face.
Persephone is the cuddliest cat I've ever known. She sleeps beside me at night, she cuddles on either of our laps and would always cuddle up to Kayla. She loves that social interaction and being around people.
What she taught me was to let some of my walls down and enjoy the company of others. I'm an introvert but I can see so much benefit to increasing my social outings and getting to know more people.
FYI... I DO NOT go about cuddling strangers. :)
Monty is last up on this list. The only boy in the group, he is also a rescue. We've only had him for 4 months but in that time we've gotten better at paying attention to his lessons.
Lesson #9 - Be who you are on the inside.
We got Monty on Christmas Eve 2014. At only 25 lbs, he was only a little guy when he came to our home. Due to the holidays and things going on with us, we weren't able to take him to the required obedience class until a month later. By this time Monty weighed in at a healthy 35 lbs and was one of the biggest puppies in class. Monty had the great good fortune to have had awesome foster parents who loved him a lot. In his life time he's never known anything but love. I tell you this because play time during obedience class told us a lot of Monty's character. Just about every other puppy was smaller than him but several were considerably more aggressive. Monty never responded to this aggressiveness with more aggressiveness. He would often do just enough to get the aggression to stop and then go on to something else. He was the biggest in class, but probably the gentlest.
Monty teaches me day by day to be who I am on the inside. Monty won't be induced to an aggressive personality because that's not who he is. With his size he could have easily done some damage to those smaller aggressive puppies but he didn't. He loves his life and he is who he authentically is each and every day.
Lesson #10 - Greet people with a smile, it will make their day.
In my current job, I sometimes don't get home until 9pm. To Monty it doesn't matter what time I get home, he's either waiting at the door or racing to the door when I walk in. He jumps up to greet me and licks my ears and get his tail wagging for all he's worth.
After a generally very very busy day, I completely forget the stress that the day has brought and appreciate the welcoming I get from both Monty and Persephone. I realize that whatever stress occurred during the day is just not that important after all.
Monty teaches me every day to be happy and share that joy with others. None of us know what others are going through and a friendly word or even a smile might be just the thing they need at that moment.
Bonus #11 - Don't wish for the future any faster than when it will arrive.
Similar to Lesson #2, I was guilty of wishing for a future that I didn't appreciate the present. Many many times Gary and I found ourselves wandering around our neighbourhood in search of Dash and I found myself wishing for a time when she was less inclined to wander.
As a high energy dog, Kayla was sometimes more than I could handle at a particular moment. There were times that I couldn't wait for Kayla to mature and calm down.
Dash's desire to wander didn't really abate with age. Even as she came close to her 20th birthday she still wanted to explore. 6 weeks prior to her death she suddenly stopped showing interest in wandering. She had a tough time making it downstairs to her litter box and so we brought it up to her. We moved her food into her preferred room in the house in the hopes that she would take in more food. One Saturday morning as I watched her struggling I realized that her time on this Earth was up. I couldn't bear to watch this intelligent, dignified animal struggle to make it to her litter box. But Dash was always independent and loving. That Saturday morning she looked at me with eyes that said, "I'm done Mom." That night she had a brief spurt of energy and the next day she passed away on my lap. She'd given as many life lessons to us as she could in her time with us.
Kayla was high energy dog until about her 13th year. Then the changes happened slowly. At first it was a reluctance to go on a long walk and then it was her preference to just lie down in the back yard instead of playing. Sleep happened often and groans started to occur. The vet said it was arthritis and that it's fairly common in older dogs. We started her on a regimen of pills and glucosamine to help keep her comfortable and for a time she did return to her old self. But the walks became shorter and shorter and her sleep more and more. She no longer went downstairs as we went in and out the front door to make life easier for her. But then in August last year something happened and she could no longer walk in a straight line, but only walk in circles. Gary tried taking her out for a walk but off leash she could do no more than walk in circles. It broke my heart when Gary told me that some young boys who were watching her thought that she was acting drunk. We had an event we had to go to that night and we came home as quickly as we could to discover that Kayla had peed on the carpet. In the 14 1/2 years we had her, she only ever did that in the first few days of her being with us or if she was sick. We let her outside in case there was anything more she had to do but she couldn't manage the few stairs on her own and Gary carried her. I cried my heart out when I saw her struggle to do what she needed to do on that lawn. Her time had come to an end and the next day we said our final goodbyes.
These two rambunctious, intelligent, playful, loving creatures came into our lives for a reason. Many times in their younger years I wished for them to be calmer, easier to manage - just different somehow. When they did finally start to appear to settle down it was because the end was near. If I could take back those thoughts and appreciate them for the awesome companions that they were, I would. Even in death, I think they taught me the greatest lesson.
In spite of the fact that Dash came from a pet store, she was a rescue just like her siblings. But as I reflect on the lessons all four of them taught me, I think they rescued me more than I rescued them.
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Take care and happy reading!
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