Our family pet is a 15-year-old Bichon Shih Tzu named Rocky. He was my first baby, really. I brought him home from the pet store cradled in my arms. He thought he was the alpha dog, and I flipped him on his back and told him in the most stern voice I could muster, “no,” to assert my dominance.
Not long after we got Rocky my husband went out of town on a business trip. Rocky whimpered and cried all night long from the confines of his small kennel, which we had been told was the safest and most comfortable place for a small dog. I wasn’t getting any sleep with the way he was carrying on, so I made the decision to bring him into bed with me and he immediately stopped. And Rocky’s been our bed mate ever since, officially a member of our pack. And he and I have been the best of friends ever since.
It has been tough to watch Rocky’s health deteriorate as he advances in years. He is no longer the playful puppy he once was. He is moving much slower these days. His eyesight is failing. We’re pretty sure he has arthritis in his hind legs and hips. He chatters his teeth involuntarily, and at times uncontrollably. And there’s no refuting that he has the absolute worst doggie breath on the planet.
Despite his handsome, youthful appearance, Rocky is 105 years old, and while I really don’t like to admit it, he has officially become an old dog.
He sleeps most of the time, probably close to 22 hours a day. He no longer jumps on or off our bed, and insists on being carried down the stairs in our two-storey home. He’s recently become a little more skittish, tentative, and even ornery on occasion. He doesn’t hesitate to let us know when he needs help with his relentless barking (normally he’s a very quiet dog), or when he doesn’t like something, such as the way he’s being touched or carried, by letting out a high-pitched yelp.
But here’s what hasn’t changed with Rocky: he’s still the same loving and incredibly loyal little pooch he’s always been. He still spends countless hours curled up in my lap or sitting next to me. He still follows me all around the house. He forgives without question or hesitation, and gives love unconditionally, without any expectation of anything in return, save for maybe the chewy chicken Milkbones he loves so much that he gets as a reward for going outside. (I believe Rocky has the system figured out perfectly, as he sometimes goes outside not because he has “business” to do, but because he knows he’ll get a bone when he comes back in.)
Ultimately, this little dog lives and loves with all his heart.
Unfortunately, neither pets nor people are promised forever in the physical bodies we’re given. Sometimes as we age our bodies fail us. And sometimes, through the miracles of modern medicine, our failing bodies can be repaired.
But we’re never given any guarantees.
Rocky was my first real pet and the first living creature I had sole responsibility for taking care of. And I can’t even begin to explain the depth of what this old dog has taught me about the meaning of life and love. Nothing in life is permanent, including life itself. And as I reflect on some recent family events highlighted against the changes I’ve seen in my old dog, I feel called to share some of my realizations:
- Be grateful for the time you have; regardless of what it looks like and however long it may be.
- We all have the choice to live everyday as if it were our last. Make every moment count, because how we show up for ourselves and each other truly matters, and you simply mustn’t take your time on this earth for granted.
- Always be yourself and speak your truth. Don’t change or temper your personality to suit others. Express your needs honestly and directly.
- Kindness and compassion are potent antidotes to the prevalence of hatred and fear. The added bonus is that they’re both renewable resources, so you can go ahead and apply them generously in everything you do.
- Learn to keep your heart open to the energy of love, rising above petty jealousy and anger.
- Love is powerful. Take every opportunity to show (and tell) the people you care about how important they are to you.
- Live with a soft, open heart, everyday, no matter what circumstances come your way. Herein lies both the greatest test and the true meaning of life.
They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but I’d say the lessons I’m learning from my old dog are more important. Clearly, Rocky is so much more to me than merely a family pet or an old dog. He’s an important member of our family, my constant companion, and a very wise soul who most certainly came hère to teach me a few tricks about life, and not the other way around.