As a kid, I found myself surrounded by horses, cows, chickens, cats, rabbits and dogs. Animals have the amazing gift of sharing their wisdom, and if we pay close attention, they can be our greatest teachers.
Although their bodies have long been let go of, their spirits remain. Their nicknames engraved on the stepping stones that grace my garden is a reminder of the connection we still have, and the sweet memory of spreading their ashes while their doggie playmates ran through their dust seems like yesterday.
Gabby and Clio were two greyhound bookends. Gabby, with her black and white mask, black polka dot spots on her body, and that unforgettable needle nose. She was the clown — Crazy Bones. With a “go after whatever you want” attitude, Gabby was often finding herself in some sort of passion-induced predicament. Like the time she ran so fast she wiped out and ended up with grass stains all over her body. Or the other time she ran around the house at full greyhound speed — forgetting there was a 12-foot drop off around the bend. I’ve never seen a dog fly through the air for such a long time, and actually land okay. Well, except for the time she ran into a soccer goal net while running at full speed — her body bouncing up into the net…pausing in mid-air…and then catapulting itself back onto the field. She was fine, but I couldn’t close my jaw from what I had witnessed.
Gabby was hilarious. She lived each moment to its fullest, went after what she wanted, spoke up when she needed something, and entertained herself and others with her antics. She knew how to have fun, to live from her heart, and she knew how to be a true companion. When Gabby passed, there was a huge void in my heart. She was my first, and I thought I’d never be able to go through the death of a pet again.
Two months after Gabby passed on, her sidekick Clio ended up with a large tumor on her torso. Within two years time, I would experience transition in my marriage, and both of my dogs and my father would pass unexpectedly. Life was teaching me about death at a fast pace.
Clio was a saint — never doing anything out of line her entire life. When Gabby tore up the garbage, it was Clio who walked upstairs slowly — with a sideways glance on her eyeballs, and a look on her face that said, “Um…you might want to go check on Gabby.” Clio didn’t expend any energy unless she really needed to, and when she needed to, she was really fast. Clio was nicknamed Lazy Bones at a young age, yet her pace was more “the speed of life.” With her jet black fur, that same distinguishable greyhound nose, and a super long tail that circled like a helicopter, Clio was a lady. She was dainty, precise, careful, quiet natured, and the opposite of Gabby.
Take an icy winter day in the Midwest for example. The door opens, and Gabby darts off at high speed — within moments sprawled all over the driveway, but sporting a grin on her face as if to say, “Wow! That was slippery! Fun!” And then there was Clio — calculating every step, tip-toeing onto the ice or completely avoiding it altogether.
Between these two, I learned to live life from a place of fearlessness and fun, as well as paying attention, slowing down and being gentle.
Clio lived to be 11 years old — long enough to help me raise my current canine companion, Java. There were moments when Java was young that Clio would remind me that Java was on the dining room table, or that there was a red marker in Java’s mouth that probably shouldn’t be there. Clio continued to be a saint until her last exhale became my next inhale.
The days leading up to Clio’s passing were one of my greatest life lessons. Don’t wait to tell someone you love them. A week to the day before Clio passed, I received a late night call that my father had passed unexpectedly. After the shock wore off, I perused my mind to remember our last phone call. Pulling our words from the memory of my heart was easy.
“I love you, Dad.”
“I love you, too, baby.”
I’m immersed in the lessons from the animals I have lived and worked with over the years, and yet, the dog who graces my house now is my wisest teacher. She’s still very much alive, but someday I’ll be writing a story about Java’s passing. For now, let’s just say that this 10-1/2-year-old exuberant Plott Hound who once climbed on top of dining room tables and ran through the house with butcher knives and screwdrivers in her mouth has taught me one of my most important lessons of all time.
Love fully and allow yourself to be loved.
Oh yeah, and wag your tail until it hits you in the face!