A DOG’S LIFE

Posted by Dr.J on November 18, 2013  /   Posted in Articles, Resiliency

RexRex died today.

Of his early life we can only speculate.

 

The Rescue

A young man sees another beating a black dog. He angrily confronts the dog-beater who claims it is to “teach the dog.” The young man retorts that he is teaching him nothing but fear and demands possession. “You don’t know anything about dogs. Give me that dog.” And, inexplicitly, the villain does.

The next day in an online chat for mountain bikers, a curious note appears, confessing that the author has come into possession of a medium sized dog, mixed breed, and he cannot keep him. “My wife says we already have too many dogs.”

My son sees the advertisement and begins negotiating. “Ruby would like to have a stepbrother,” he argues. My daughter-in-law accedes and Rex enters their family.

His senior stepsister (“I was here first”) is a strange Labrador, skinny and high energy. Ruby is a born retriever, endlessly chasing sticks and balls and returning them, dropping them at your feet. “Fun!” she says. “Do it again.”

Rex is likely part Lab, but his physiognomy is of a Pit Bull. His psychology is one of a Pit Bull. He is desperate to be loved. He winces when you try to pet him, as if anticipating a blow. But always eager to forgive and give people more chances.

He is extraordinarily gentle around his human sister, Amy (name changed). As she grows, Rex, alone of the family dogs, will obey the three year old without question. Ruby ignores Amy, but Rex comes when she calls, sits when she tells him.

He visits our house regularly. He leans heavily against my leg, asking to be petted. He is not smart, but he is gentle and kind. He fails to understand the game of fetch, thinking it is a time to gallop randomly around the back yard, the tennis ball in his mouth. Ruby runs after him, frustrated that he doesn’t understand the basics of the game. Eventually Rex loses the ball, Ruby grabs it, runs towards me, ears flapping wildly, and drops the ball at my feet.  Just as Ruby knew I would, I hit it with the racquet. Ruby is joyful. Rex is mystified.

He once saw people coming toward young Amy and, not recognizing them, placed himself between them and his human sister. He loves and wants most of all to be loved. Part of love is protection. You protect those in your pack.

There is no growl, no brandishing of the teeth and those incredible Pit Bull masseter muscles, strong enough to snap a bone. Just a careful watchfulness.  “Who are you? What do you want?”

We find a newspaper account. An alcoholic woman passes out on a railroad track. The train is coming, and her dog, a Pit Bull, places himself between her and the train. She survives. He loses his left front leg, but is happy. He has been of help. We recognize Rex in the story.

Rex would give his life for those he loves.

He didn't get the chance.

 

Nosebleeds

He shakes his head a lot and gets nosebleeds. His ears bother him with, the vet explains, an ear infection common to Pit Bulls.

His ear problems are treated but the nosebleeds continue.

The vet finds a mass in his nose. It is an aggressive cancer, growing rapidly and spreading. Rex is now in pain. He wheezes when he breathes. He is in more and more pain. His old habit of wincing when your hand reaches out to pet him returns.

Last night we visited him. His breathing was labored, but he struggled to his feet and sits by me. He leans solidly against my leg, and I gently stroked his throat. His morphine doesn’t stop all the pain, but he asks, “Do you love me? Do you know I love you?”

This morning I got the news that he was gone.

 

Mindsets

Social psychologists identify two somewhat opposite mindsets, prevention and promotion. The focus of a prevention mindset is to keep bad things from happening. A promotion mindset, to the contrary, aims at creating more of something.

A prevention mindset is helpful in many situations. Flying an airplane, for example, has a lot of prevention tasks: checking to see there is oil in the engine, the flaps work, the ailerons function, the elevator works. Is there actual gas in the tanks? Don’t trust the gauge! Look and see! Lindberg once said, “Flying, like the sea, is not inherently dangerous. But to an even greater degree than the sea, it is terribly unforgiving of the least inattention or error.” The wise pilot checks everything. Prevention keeps the wise pilot alive.

Prevention argues against adopting dogs, and especially an unknown dog from an abusive background. It isn’t worth the risk.

The promotion mindset is great for inventing and creating. “Done is better than perfect” is the cry of the promotion-minded person. Let’s try it and see. The promotion mindset embraces risk. Adopt a strange dog? Well, if you were a dog who had been beaten, would you want a loving and adventurous family to adopt you? Maybe the Golden Rule is promotion-focused.

Today there will be a funeral. Should my son have adopted Rex? His death has saddened the whole family. We have exposed ourselves to a risk, and the risk was real. Rex left the family all too soon. How can we explain his absence to Ruby? Amy is heart-broken. What can we say?

We say that life is worth the risk. We say that without loss, love can mean nothing, for with the experience of love, one risks all. We say that we embrace the grief because we first embraced love.

We say that we are a promotion-focused family, running risks of love and life and adventure and learning, and suffering and then running those risks again. And again.

Embrace life and love, and know, with all the certainty we can know anything in this uncertain life, that there will be risk, there will be pain, there will be terrible loss.

My son has coached Amy to say, when she is in pain, “It will pass quickly.” Pain always does. Long after the pain of today has passed, our hikes with Rex, our adventures, and even our frustrating games of fetch will remain in our minds. Pain will pass quickly, and we will always have the memory of Rex, uncertain about the strangers, putting himself between them and his sister.

It is worth it.

 

(If you find this little report speaks to you, please share it in all the ways that one shares in our electronic world. Leave a thought below to Rex and all those creatures that suffer at our hands yet want to love us still.)

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38 Comments

  1. John Millerman, Ph.D. December 2, 2013 10:09 am / Reply

    Thanks,Lynn. I’m going to forward this to a friend who lost her husband recently and also my web designer whose lab died a few weeks ago.

  2. Al Emond November 23, 2013 10:08 am / Reply

    Thank you for sharing this beautiful, heartwarming story about your beloved, Rex. As blessed as you were to have adopted such a non-judgemental loving boy like Rex, he too was blessed to have been adopted for his inner spirit of unconditional love and protection, and not judged by his looks or the negative reputation of a certain breed. If we had more people in this world like our dogs, what a wonderful world it would be!!! Three cheers for Rex !!! RUFF-RUFF-RUFF !!!

  3. Rose Demczuk November 21, 2013 8:17 pm / Reply

    This email was sent on the same day we had to put our beloved German Shepherd to sleep. Reading this helped to see that it is love and memories that help get us to tolerate the painful losses of life. Thank You

  4. Sheila November 21, 2013 3:09 pm / Reply

    Thanks for sharing such a beautiful tribute. As an animal lover (though my choice right now is a cat), this truly touched my heart and made me think of the loss of my cat Cinnamon less than a year ago at 19 years old. I believe that we will be reunited with our pets because they truly are part of our family.

  5. Judy Ferrara November 20, 2013 11:49 am / Reply

    What a beautiful legacy..for Rex and your family…We have rescued many cats and had several dogs over our lifetime…at one point the pain of inevitably losing them was preventing my husband from wanting any more pets..until I made him see that what we had all given each other and shared was much more than the pain that we experienced when we lost them…he has now learned to embrace that “promotion mindset” and enjoy the time that we have with them…suffer through the losses and…eventually revel in the loving and joyous memories that they have left with us.

  6. Tricia November 20, 2013 10:43 am / Reply

    thank you for sharing that story, Dr. J. I too believe that a chance to love someone or some creature is never a mistake, even if the time is cut short. It is all part of the rich human experience.

  7. Janet Hazen November 19, 2013 8:08 pm / Reply

    Wow. What timing. I just rescued a feral dog from the streets of my neighborhood. I’m sure she, too, was abused, as she was petrified of all humans. She ran through and across busy streets until one day, she noticed me offering her some chicken.

    It was a risk; I have 2 smaller dogs, this stray–no shots, riddled with fleas, filthy down to her skin, worms and of course, not spayed. I believe God brought her to me, and facilitated the transition. It’s only been a month, but, like your family, the love and affection abounds, and yes, there’s plenty of protection behavior. Tonka says,”She is mine. I’m never gonna be without my human mommy again.”

    Rescuing an animal can be a very quiet, non-verbal event. The devotion and dedication, however, speaks volumes more than we humans can take in or digest. Hallelujah for dogs and dog-lovers. Especially those who are willing to take a risk.

  8. Kathryn November 19, 2013 4:15 pm / Reply

    Thank you, Dr. J, for sharing your joy and sadness with us. Rex was blessed to have you as a family; you were blessed to be his family. If there is a hereafter (I believe there is), then Rex is there watching for his people and waiting to lean against your leg again when you’re reunited. Blessings to you and your dear ones as you grieve for your friend.

  9. Joanie November 19, 2013 3:57 pm / Reply

    As I read the sweet story of Rex finding a family to love and be loved by, I think about the numerous animals my mom let me rescue as a child (who always seemed to be pregnant so we would end up with multiple dogs or cats instead of one), the wonderful foundling cats we have had since my husband and I married (4 of which live with us now) and the orphan children in the various countries who are being helped by the many ministries we support as they attempt to place them in families of their own (including the little boy we had hoped to adopt but it fell through). Love looks for a place to call home. People and pets deserve to be loved.

  10. Ray Erickson November 19, 2013 3:55 pm / Reply

    Hi Lynn,
    Your story reminds of the many times in my life where I have learned to love and let go because of a pet I’ve owned. (Mostly dogs). It is not known when dogs became domesticated but I’d wager that the dog has domesticated man as much as man has domesticated the dog. All of our pets serve this vital function of loving deeply and then to let go of love as our pets die, sometimes in our loving arms but often along the road. In either case we, as owners (?) have been blessed with the hand of God, after all, Dog spelled backwards is God. Bless you for sharing this touching story about one of your best friends.

  11. cheryl levie November 19, 2013 2:56 pm / Reply

    NOW, after this sadness how about an article of joy relating to the release of feel good hormones when we touch and pet our furry friends? MY rescue came with a broken leg,infected foot, foxtail in his nose, no training at 13 months. Now at 3 he is visiting kids and sick folks as a therapy dog!

  12. Susie H. November 19, 2013 2:08 pm / Reply

    I loved my cat and cried when we needed to let her go. Then we got our little Schnauzer—so much love in that little bundle of joy. Letting her go, because her cancer was slowly but surely sucking all her energy, was one of the hardest things we ever had to do. Four of us petted and loved her while she got her injection. So much love from brought us so much joy. I haven’t cried that hard since I was a teen-ager.

  13. Donna Gill November 19, 2013 1:42 pm / Reply

    Lynn, My condolences to you and your family. My heart goes out to you. I too have lost many animals over the years and I try to embrace the “here and now” with each of them. I am all too aware of the short time we have with our pets and their love. It is so similar to life – love and pain being two sides of a coin. Given the choice of being rational or emotional, I choose emotional. Thank you, Lynn, for sharing your thoughts and feelings.

  14. Deborah Olson November 19, 2013 1:10 pm / Reply

    Lynn,this is such an incredible story in so many ways! You have highlighted so beautifully the deep and unconditional love that our pets share with us. They truly model for us so many wonderful traits that we humans often ignore and forget to share with others. Rex has touched your family in ways that words cannot even explain and your lives are richer for having known him and shared his love. We know this pain so well as our family lost our dear 12 year old yellow lab,Cotton Jenny,a few years ago. She was our “fifth” child for sure and we miss her everyday. Cotton has left her mark on every one of us, and her legacy lives on now as your Rex will live on in the hearts and souls of you and your family. We are truly sorry for the loss of your loyal and dear friend.

  15. David H November 19, 2013 12:09 pm / Reply

    Our animals often show us the way to happiness. A beautiful parable for me. Loss is painful, yes, yet the love that we learn in giving and receiving with our animals model life at its best. Thanks for sharing this story, Lynn.

  16. Shirley Hendricks November 19, 2013 12:04 pm / Reply

    Thank you for sharing this story. When our daughter worked for a veterinarian a lady brought in “the runt of the litter” and asked the Doctor to “put him down”. She didn’t have time to care for him. Our daughter said “Not on my watch!” Chance, a Shephard/Boxer mix, fit in the palm of our hand when he came into our family. He grew to be a big, strong, healthy, loyal, loving, kind, pet. He died two summers ago, at the age of 12, and we miss him still. We look for to seeing him again. We understand your sadness and truly feel your pain.

  17. Mike Miller, PhD November 19, 2013 11:51 am / Reply

    Condolences. Only our most recent dog was not a rescue. In our 38 plus years of marriage we have only been 2 wks without a dog – before we got our now oldest dog Daisy (we now have 4).
    Will try to send you something, as well.

    Peace.

  18. Priscilla Hone November 19, 2013 10:53 am / Reply

    Thank you foropeningmy eyes wider and my heart deeper to the miraculous power of love. The pain that may not pass so quickly is worth the gift of joy from Rex.

  19. Karla Nielson November 19, 2013 10:02 am / Reply

    Thanks for such a thoughtful, insightful and true description of how much we come to love our pets – perhaps almost as much as they love us.

  20. Amanda Holbrook November 19, 2013 9:42 am / Reply

    Rex was an unusually loving and kind dog with a very gentle soul–despite his difficult start to his life. Lynn, you caught his essence and what it means to open our hearts to a vulnerable animal who only longs to love and be loved. It is a risk but so worth it. We are able to love more deeply when we witness the unconditional love and loyalty of a beloved animal. What a beautifully written article that brought many tears to my eyes. Thank you.

  21. Kriss November 19, 2013 9:07 am / Reply

    Animals are the closest we have to experiencing unconditional love from another. I am sorry for your loss

  22. Kyri Elizabeth November 19, 2013 9:01 am / Reply

    How can anyone not be touched just hearing about that sweet spirit of Rex???? God is shining through that amazing Dog! The story inspires me to be more loving and unconditional in my life and with my clients. Talk about a way to raise your optimism levels too!!!!!!!!!!!! When I hear about any person or creature who has been abused, I remind myself that there is no memory of pain after death…only the love and joy remain.

  23. Chris Pickett November 19, 2013 8:53 am / Reply

    Dogs are such wonderful friends and at times therapists and care givers. Thank you Lynn for sharing your heart and your family, including your interspecies relationships. It is a tribute to holism in life and the value of Love which the world needs so badly!

  24. Elaine Childs November 19, 2013 8:33 am / Reply

    I always say that dogs are the best therapist. I don’t know another creature that is as capable of forgiveness and unconditional love.

  25. Russ November 19, 2013 8:27 am / Reply

    I understand about Rex and the Love a family can provide for a lost animal. My wife and I have a dog (a Bagle)Basset and Beagle cross, that came to our house via being dumped. He was sick didn’t have any social skills and was obviously beaten for his poor behaviors. His name is Ralph. Ralph is so passive the cat beats him up every time he gets near her. Ralph is not aggressive at all and because of his passive attitude he would rather hold his bed down than exert energy. He is now 15 years old it takes him 42 steps to cross 16 feet. When he can’t find one of us in the house he will cry until he finds one of us. It won’t be long and he will join your Rex. Until then he will be part of my therapy practice, knowing no strangers and accepting them just as they are. Love is a painful experience but what a cold world it would be to not have known love and acceptance. A great heartwarming insight of love.

  26. Steve November 19, 2013 7:23 am / Reply

    Lynn,
    Thank you for sharing a touching story about Rex and how he has contributed to your family. I believe that we do better when we make decisions integrating both our mind and heart. The prevention attitude ignores the heart and the potential benefits. The promotion attitude may avoid understanding the facts and potential consequences. I believe the choice to get Rex may have integrated both the mind and heart. Too often we limit ourselves by being too fearful and failing to take positive risks. I believe that in spite of the pain of loss, that everyone in your family is grateful for Rex.

  27. Brenda Berretta November 19, 2013 7:14 am / Reply

    Love and loss–puzzle of the universe. Such a beautiful story, Lynn. The only element to be added is what you and your lovely family did for Rex. If you could have talked to him in people talk on his deathbed, I am sure he would said, “Oh, yes, it was worth it. I am so glad you decided to make me part of your family.”

  28. Dory November 19, 2013 6:14 am / Reply

    Lynn – I am so sorry for your loss of Rex. It is said that when one brings home a dog, they bring home a built-in someday-heartache. But worth the risk? There is no question. Our love overrides all – how can one turn away a beautiful soul like Rex? We are all better for it – for you in living with him and loving him, for those that met him and got to experience his heart, and for him most of all – to be loved and have his biggest dream come true. I lost my Lilly (greyhound) a couple months ago. I hope she finds Rex and they run and run and run …. Blessings and hugs to you …

  29. Dr. Karen Engebretsen-Stopczynski November 19, 2013 5:47 am / Reply

    Your story brought tears to my eyes. It is never easy to say goodbye. My heart goes out to you.

  30. Marsha Mandel November 19, 2013 5:17 am / Reply

    How beautifully you conveyed that story! I agree; it is entirely, completely worth it. I am relating this promotion/prevention dichotomy to a newly adopted motto this year: Fifty and fearless, as opposed to making choices by fear. It was fearless to adopt Rex.

  31. Karen Shoshana November 19, 2013 4:27 am / Reply

    Rest easy Rex. You were found, saved and loved. A blessed thing.

  32. Sandy Baldoni November 19, 2013 3:51 am / Reply

    I took a risk on a greyhound named Merry in 1998. She had spent her early life at the racetrack mostly in a crate. She did not know how to climb stairs, play, or do any tricks when we got her. However, she quickly learned how to give and receive love. She gave us much more than she took and we had ten wonderful years with her. Is it worth the risk?You bet!!

  33. Wendy November 19, 2013 2:52 am / Reply

    I am sorry for your loss and feeling it with you. Dogs have a way of entering our hearts in a way only they can. It is a complete love and acceptance whether we deserve it or not. Allowing them into our hearts is a risk because dogs do not live as long as people and when someone who loves you like that is gone, it leaves a hole in your heart, or an empty space. But it seems more terrible to me not to take the risk and not to have that love even if the time is short. I also feel it tragic that so many dogs need someone to give their love to, while so many people want or need that kind of love, and, like me, are not permitted to have a pet.

  34. Mike November 19, 2013 2:39 am / Reply

    “Dogs love you more than they love themselves”, author unkown to me. Rex will be waiting for you when your time comes. God bless you sll who rescue dogs!

  35. Mary November 18, 2013 11:51 pm / Reply

    What a great post. It is beautifully written. It’s amazing what kind of examples animals and their sweet little souls can be to us.

  36. SAJ November 18, 2013 10:01 pm / Reply

    Such a great message and post. I love the part about how love is a very real risk. It means risking loss but without that risk we would miss out on so much joy! Thank you for this!

  37. CJ November 18, 2013 8:14 pm / Reply

    One of the best and most uplifting things I have read in a long while. As a dog lover it also brought a tear to my eye.

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