Dog Days

Dogs can teach us a lot, if we pay attention.

Abused and abandoned, our black Lab mix Cody could have hated people forever. Some dogs carry a grudge and never get past the pain. But he didn’t, and that is but one of the lessons my dog taught me.

Forgiveness and Trust. When you’ve been hurt, it takes courage to move on, to learn to trust someone else, to make yourself vulnerable.

We didn’t realize how traumatized Cody must have been by his abandonment until we noticed that knickknacks and plants on our bow window’s sill had been moved every-so-slightly. To solve this mystery, we set up a camera. While we were out of the house, our 80-pound dog paced back and forth on the windowsill, carefully stepping in between the stuff on the sill.

Cody didn’t forget his abandonment quickly. It took him a long time to realize that we weren’t going to leave him. The first six months with us, he never barked. But he finally decided our home was his territory to defend, and his powerful barking scared us to death when we first heard it!

He eventually stopped pacing the windowsill, and the mailman can attest to the ferocity of Cody’s protection of the house (although when Cody did “catch” the mailman, all he did was sniff the man’s knee, wag his tail, and come back home).

Carpe Diem. Dogs (and small children) are great at living in the moment. The joys of little things are magnified, and the world is painted in vivid colors.

Cody greeted us with insane barking every day when we came home. He took us for several walks a day. He climbed up between my parents on the sofa as if he was a lap dog. He would sit on the sofa like a person, back legs stretched out in front of him, front legs tucked up like arms.

Cody loved the Barbie kiddie pool in the summer, where he would snap at the waves he created in the water. His first snowfall mystified him, but once he assured himself that the ground was still there, he rolled and bit it—a black shadow on the white snow.

He enjoyed everything.

Faithful Friendship. Any friend can stand by you in good times. A true friend will stand by you in bad times.

Cody fell in love with my mother. He followed her everywhere—upstairs, downstairs, outside, inside. He would sit outside the bathroom door and stare a hole in it when she was in there. My mom, who had sworn a dog would “never” live in her house, felt like she was being stalked. But it’s difficult to stay hard-hearted when a dog loves you so steadfastly. She fell in love with him. Cody became “her” dog.

Companionship went both ways. During thunderstorms, Cody would come and lay by my bed. On 9/11, I cried into his fur as I watched the Towers fall.

The Final Lesson.

Cody brought so much joy into our lives. For 13 years, he was a constant shadow to my mother. On April 30, it was time to say goodbye. After overcoming lung cancer, several tendon operations, and a myriad of other medical issues, he finally succumbed to old age.

I cannot help but contrast Cody’s beginning with his end. As a 1-year-old puppy he was abandoned in a backyard. As an old dog just six weeks shy of 15, he left this life surrounded by three generations of a family that loved him.

And perhaps that is the most important lesson of all—that to love and be loved is the single greatest gift we can receive in this life.


  1. Beautifully written, as always., Kerry!

  2. Thirteen years is a long time. All the things that you’ve so wonderfully pointed out make life with a dog special, but also make it even more painful when they leave us. I’m sorry to hear the news.

    I stumbled on a tattered tennis ball that was buried in the leaves in under our woods yesterday. It belonged to my old dog who died a few years ago. I couldn’t throw it away, so I just left it there — to trip over another day and remember my good friend.

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