Things we can learn from a dog

This is part three of a series about Norma who was admitted to hospice with general debility, which is just another way of saying that her body is wearing out. I previously described Norma as being “forward and feisty”; but lately I’ve noticed she’s lost some of her feistiness. She’s weaker and a little confused at times now. And I’m saddened, no grieving, by the prospect that we might be losing the old Norma bit-by-bit. But when I suggested that God might use her stories to inspire and encourage others; that her written story will go places she’ll never go, and touch people she’ll never meet; that characteristic grin and twinkle in her eye remerged.

Norma loves her little dog, Mimi, and one of the most difficult things about living at the nursing home is being separated from her. Norma’s daughter, Essie, brings Mimi to the nursing home for visits but Norma still misses her greatly. Norma reflected, “We traveled together, just her and me. She loved to travel. I would throw her in the car and off we’d go. I was watching a dog show on TV the other night and they had dachshunds on it and I cried all day. I’ve sat up in my bed at night crying many a time. A dog sure is a man’s best friend, it sure is! A dog won’t talk back; They don’t hold grudges and they will curl up with you. Mimi used to sleep with me every night. She slept on the pillow beside me and all you could see were her eyes.” Norma held up one of those C-shaped neck support pillows and stated; “Now when I go to bed, I pretend that this is my little dog.”

Norma’s sentiments towards her “little dog” remind me of a list given to me several years ago titled, “Things we can learn from a dog”: “Never pass up the opportunity to go for a joy ride. Allow the experience of fresh air and the wind in your face to be pure ecstasy. When loved ones come home, always run to greet them. When it’s in your best interest, always practice obedience. Let others know when they’ve invaded your territory. Take naps and always stretch before rising. Run, romp and play daily. Eat with gusto and enthusiasm. Be loyal. Never pretend to be something you’re not. If what you want lies buried; dig until you find it. When someone is having a bad day, be silent, sit close by and nuzzle them gently. Delight in the simple joy of a long walk. Thrive on attention and let other people touch you. Avoid biting when a simple growl will do. On hot days drink lots of water and lie under a shade tree. When you are happy dance around and wag your whole body. No matter how often you are criticized, don’t buy into the guilt thing and pout; run right back and make friends.” (Author unknown)

While our daughter, Elizabeth, was attending college at the University of Pennsylvania, in Philadelphia, she and her roommate, Dianna, decided to get a dog. My wife, Susie, and I tried to tell her, “You don’t need a dog while you’re in college. You don’t have time to take care of it. And besides there isn’t even any grass in downtown Philadelphia” Well, you guessed it, a few months later Elizabeth relinquished her parental rights and Susie and I assumed custody of Ashae, a little wild-haired Chihuahua-Pomeranian mix.

Fast forward past Elizabeth’s graduation and her return to Portsmouth. Our family was sitting in the living room and I was smiling fondly as I watched Ashae play with a toy, we’d bought her. Then Elizabeth commented, “Dad, that’s ridiculous! You never even looked at us girls like that. I think you’re even fonder of Ashae than you are of mom.” I responded, “If your mom ran to the door to greet me every time I came home and wagged her tail at me, maybe I would look at your mom that way too.”

I’ll close with a story I read on line, titled, “A Dog’s Wisdom”. It’s about a veterinarian who made a home visit and concluded that the family’s ten-year-old Irish Wolfhound was dying of cancer and there was nothing that could be done. Therefore, he offered “putting the dog to sleep” as an option and the family agreed. The father suggested that their six-year-old son be present; because he might learn a valuable life lesson from the experience. But, on the other hand, they were concerned that he might become extremely upset. To their surprise he remained remarkably calm. As they stood around talking about how much shorter a dog’s life is than a human’s, the little boy exclaimed, “I know why! People are born so they can learn how to live a good life, like loving everyone all the time and being nice, right? Well, dogs already know how to do that, so they don’t have to stay as long.”

“Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another…” (Romans 12:10)

Loren Hardin is a social worker with SOMC-Hospice and can be reached at 740-357-6091 or at You can order Loren’s book, “Straight Paths: Insights for living from those who have finished the course”, at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

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