Dog Lessons on Living

Forty years of practicing medicine and having lived long enough to acquire some gray hair have allowed me to observe people dealing with illness and impending death. These challenging periods prove difficult for sure , but I believe our pets can help to cope with and even model helpful behaviors that benefit their owners. The mindfulness of the pet owner becomes necessary in order to learn these pet-assisted lessons.

At our house we’ve had two experiences that I wish to share that have brought me to this conclusion. Our Border collie, Buddy, unfortunately injured himself many years ago while leaping over a cattle guard. I found him shortly after the accident, dragging his paralyzed hind limbs. We were to learn that Buddy had ruptured a disc that had extruded into the spinal canal and traumatized his spinal cord. After evaluation, treatment, and rehabilitation Buddy slowly recovered. He now has the reasonable use of his hind legs and moves about without any assistance. For this we are incredibly grateful.

Buddy had always loved to run and herd cattle. His racing around the ranch with his tongue flapping deliriously and with a goofy look plastered across his muzzle has for me defined unbridled enjoyment. With time he has regained the ability to both run and herd, although not with quite the same proficiency as prior to his injury. Nevertheless, Buddy still loves to ride in the pickup, watch the cattle, and when needed to jump out of the bed of the pickup and do a stint of herding.

It strikes me that Buddy during his convalescence never gave up on himself, nor did he permanently abandon his valuable role as chief herder on the ranch. Despite lingering weakness, he continues to carry out his job with typical Border collie passion and enthusiasm. A job for a Border collie is vital. As the old saying goes, “If a Border collie doesn’t have a job, he’s liable to become self-employed.” Trust me, when this happens it’s never a good thing!

Buddy sleeps more now following his injury

Our second pet-assisted experience resulted with our Shetland Sheep dog (Sheltie), Taffy, and occurred years ago when we lived in Lubbock. Taffy’s favorite activity and what she most anticipated was her evening walk. She would become so excited when we presented her leash for our walk. Unfortunately Taffy eventually fell ill and was diagnosed as having cancer. While we knew the cancer would eventually take her, we were given the encouraging, if incorrect, prognosis by her vet that she had at least weeks if not months to live.  Despite Taffy not feeling well, she still agitated quite demonstrably at the end of each day for her walk.

Taffy during her healthier days

I distinctly remember her recruiting us that last night. Trudy and I dutifully leashed up Taffy and began a slow trek around our block. Taffy seemingly sniffed  every tree we encountered and observed the goings-on in the neighborhood with her eyes glistening with excitement. Unfortunately despite her wanting to, her energy gave out a third of the way around the block. She simply was unable to muster the strength necessary to walk any further.

On recognizing this I reached down to gather our sweet dog in my arms and then continued our walk around the block. Taffy gazed out from the crook of my arm and noted the happenings of her final trip around the neighborhood. Later that night she died peacefully in her bed. I like to think Taffy died  happy having made one more glorious trip around her block.

The thing is, Taffy continued to do what she most enjoyed despite her serious illness. Her willpower and determination continued despite her substantial depletion of energy. It seems to me that a broader and more personal message exists for pet owners much like the messages both Buddy and Taffy have given us.

I will continue discussing this topic in a subsequent post and plan to give a few human examples. These people-related corollaries will come from my book, Carrying The Black Bag.

Please share your thoughts as to what you may have learned from your pet regarding illness or impending death.



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8 thoughts on “Dog Lessons on Living

  1. Janet Lindemann April 15, 2017 at 10:05 pm Reply

    Tom, As usual, a touching and poignant comment on life as related to your experience.

  2. tomhuttonmd April 16, 2017 at 6:05 am Reply

    Thanks Janet. Always appreciate your comments and afffirmation.

  3. Rowdy's Mom April 16, 2017 at 9:03 am Reply

    Let me get more tissues first before sharing.

  4. tomhuttonmd April 17, 2017 at 7:23 am Reply

    Hope Rowdy’s Mom will leave her thoughts but know the passing of Rowdy has left a big void in her life. Suspect though that Rowdy taught some lasting lessons as well as served as a wonderful companion.

  5. Maria Matthews April 17, 2017 at 4:14 pm Reply

    You are correct about BC s and the need to work. However The trouble with collies who love their job is that they are relentless in their desire to do it well. This I have discovered with Ellie (her job :search and rescue). It is often me who tires first.

  6. La Nelle Ethridge April 19, 2017 at 8:30 am Reply

    Wow, was able to reflect much on this story. Pudi taught me about what’s important too, She always, unless the porch was covered by snow or there was lightening/thunder laid on the back porch and watched HER yard. She did it with an intensity of both guarding and enjoying. I walk across that path often and am reminded of her devotion to family and home. She taught me to slow down and observe.

  7. tomhuttonmd April 19, 2017 at 1:12 pm Reply

    Devotion and living for the moment- what wonderful lessons.

  8. Midwestern Plant Girl May 11, 2017 at 5:51 am Reply

    Beautiful post!
    Love the quote about borders and jobs. It’s so true. 😊

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