One week ago today, my dog Scout rode to the vet for the last time. This once hearty and powerful Lab-Border Collie mix had fallen ill two months ago. A study in contrasts, Scout’s deep and menacing bark delivered a robust warning to both visitors and would-be intruders; yet she was reduced to a quivering mass at the sound of thunder or fireworks. Her appetite was insatiable. To Scout, everything looked and tasted like a salami sandwich: Leather shoes, fleece-lined dog beds, wooden blinds, down comforters, doors, library books, Christmas trees, winter coats, sofas.
And so, of course, when Scout stopped eating, we knew something was wrong. She was diagnosed with Cushing’s Disease, a treatable malady having to do with adrenal glands gone awry. However, the vet also discovered a large tumor on her spleen for which treatment options were few. On Christmas morning, Scout couldn’t stand up – a certain and poignant sign that it was time.
Coach and I have lost a few pets in recent years – each loss deeply heartbreaking. Family, friends and acquaintances have offered a smorgasbord of well-meaning pet-loss advice:
- Well, she was only a dog……
- Get a new dog as quickly as possible.
- Avoid getting a new dog any time soon.
- You know, there are support groups for people who have lost their pets.
- At least she’s no longer suffering.
- Nothing to do except feel sad until you don’t anymore.
- Don’t dwell on it – just hold on to your happy memories from when she was alive.
And certainly, the memories of my dog, when she was healthy and active are most comforting. Scout lived every day with astonishing gusto and enthusiasm, as if every meal, every walk, every nap and every bath would be her last. She was a cheerful, smiling, optimistic and utterly neurotic creature who loved life, and Coach and I have been thinking that if more of us lived life like our pets, the world would be a healthier and happier place. And so, with the New Year upon us, we’d like to share some of the health lessons we’ve learned from our dogs:
- Have a good stretch in the morning when you wake up.
- Don’t underestimate the wellbeing derived from a good night’s sleep or mid-day nap.
- Smile – and the world will smile back at you.
- Food is good so enjoy it when you’re hungry. Stop eating when you’re full.
- Relish the simple pleasures in life – a cozy bed, a relaxing respite by a warm fire, a soothing back rub, quality time spent with loved ones.
- Fresh air and sunshine do a body good.
- Hydrate often.
- Friends are important. Make many.
- Be yourself, however silly that might look. Don’t worry about who’s watching.
- Temper your anger, but don’t suppress it. It’s not healthy to always quash your true emotions.
- Take a walk every day. A run is even better.
- Play. And when you’re finished, play some more.
Here’s wishing you a healthy and “Scout-like” 2013!