Advice & Features Articles

What We Can Learn From Our Pets

By Sheryl Lilly Pidgeon | Editor-in-Chief, Goodlifefamilymag.com

Aspen enjoying the dog days of summer.

If you are a dog lover (and apparently 68% of American households are), you can relate to the feeling of unconditional love your precious pooch puts forth. They need so little and give so much. True confession? I was not always a “pet person” and would grimace at those who’d go gaga over their pets. But when I began dating my husband 27 years ago, he had an oversized and quite human-like sidekick, Brandi, a golden retriever. David and Brandi were quite a paw-fect pair, and I fell for both of them hook, line and sinker. Brandi soon became a great protector of our three toddlers, even when they’d try to ride her like a pony. She had a great run until kidney disease struck. Then came Patti, an unruly but affectionate rescue golden ‘mix’ who loved with all her might. We were heartbroken when tragedy struck and she was gone. Then, we had Aspen, our full-figured, funny, sweet, gregarious snow-white lab. She ruled our roost and brought so much joy and laughter into our home at the peak of our children’s teenage years and into their young adulthood. She lost her valiant battle with cancer last year but not before teaching us so much.

Living with a dog over these many years has helped me formulate many life lessons for myself and for my kids.  Here are some of my favorites:

Listen more, talk less.  Your pet always appears to validate your feelings and be engrossed in your soliloquy. Likewise, sometimes the best advice is no advice.  Be a sounding board and allow others to express their thoughts and ideas aloud. Venting is healthy!

Aspen in grad gear with Lindsey

Don’t gossip. Emily Dickinson said, “Dogs are better than human beings because they know but do not tell.” True friendship lies in knowing how (and when) to hold a confidence. 

Show compassion and be empathetic.  When you’re having a bad day, there is one go-to who has your back no matter what.  Dogs seem to say, “I’m sorry you are dealing with this, but look into my dreamy George Clooney eyes and we will get through it together.” 

Patience pays off.  In this world of instant gratification, dogs teach us that if you wait just a bit longer, you never know what could happen. (Someone could drop a meatball off their plate!) 

Have a positive body image.  You think Aspen cared one iota that she was zaftig? No! She knew she was strong and beautiful. To prove it, she’d take all 90+ pounds of her adorable self and snuggle right onto your lap. 

Aspen sitting pretty with Jaxie

Be fearless.  Sometimes you just have to go for it.  (But look both ways and wash your paws.)

Be friendly.  Who doesn’t love a nice, cuddly bundle of furry joy? But please, no licking. 

Be dependable.  When my kids were little, “dog duty” was on our chore chart right along with “kitchen duty” and “mail duty.”  It taught them that someone is counting on them.

Be grateful and pay it forward.   Mark Twain said, “If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous, he will not bite you. This is the principal difference between a dog and a man.” Dogs remind us to remember from whence we came and to be thankful for the people who helped us along the way.

Kindness cannot be purchased.  Babies don’t care how much money their parents earn nor about the brands of clothes they wear.  As kids get older and are exposed to advertising, social media, and classmates who seem to have it all, the inference is that money buys happiness.  Pets know this is not true.  It’s the simplest things that truly matter. Just some kibble, fresh water, a game of fetch and a kind word will suffice.  

Patti cheering on her favorite team

Be an optimist. Cheer for the underdog. Dogs show us that nothing is unattainable. Unlikely? Perhaps.  Impossible? Never.  Aspen would sit patiently at my feet while I cooked chicken for my family’s dinner. She’d think: “You could drop some.  YOU. COULD. DROP. SOME! (And she was right, I always did.)   

Get your rest. Dogs sleep an average of 50% of the day.  Obviously, this would be overkill for humans, but we can still learn something here.

Anytime is a good time for a snack. Needs no explanation. Pass the queso.

Embrace grief. Losing a pet is emotionally brutal. George Bernard Shaw once said, “Heartbreak is life educating us.” Feeling immense sadness is perfectly normal, and we should encourage our children to express their grief openly and honestly. It is in the depth of despair that we realize the magnitude of our love. 

Brandi guarding baby Bryce

There’s nothing wrong with a good cry.  Let your tears flow and feel your pain deeply. Then find your smile by reflecting on all the good around you. And the happiness that is yet to come. 

Learn to let go. Even though we are taught to persevere, there is a time to let go. It is in the letting go that we realize we cannot control everything, no matter how vast our desire to do so, and we turn to our faith, our family and our dear friends to see us through.  Letting go shows compassion and grace to yourself and others.

Aspen poolside with Bryce

Time heals. It is an old adage that time heals all wounds. I don’t think that is true for all pain, but I do think healing is a journey and that pain does, indeed, lessen over time. But, the memories of joy you wouldn’t change for the world never do.

Enjoy simple pleasures. Soak in the good stuff.  Doggonit. Sometimes nothing can beat a good cheeseburger, a long walk with a friend, or a big warm hug. 



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