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Lessons from my first dog

Yesterday, June 3, marked the third anniversary of my very first dog’s death. She was a Dalmatian that I got as a small pup through Colorado’s Dalmatian Rescue. She had serious medical issues. I wrote this piece about a month before she died of kidney failure at 14 1/2 years old. I delivered it as a spoken essay at an awards banquet while I was president of the Colorado Authors’ League. I’m posting it here as a tribute to the girl I still sorely mourn, all these years later. Looking back at it now, I realize the lessons and hopes apply to my ongoing work with Lilly.

This is a little story of perseverance. It’s about a little soul that makes my life complete and teaches me what it means to not give up, especially on things that make you smile:

The world’s oldest Dalmatian lives at my house. She’s 14. Her name is Penelope Grace, but we call her Nelly, Nelly Bird, Birdie, or just The Bird. Even our veterinarian shakes his head when we show up, and he realizes she’s still around. Her kidneys went bad three years ago. No one, including us, thought she’d live this long. It’s become almost epic, in a comedic kind of way. Honestly, nothing’s funnier than having a crotchety old dog as your co-worker. Even she had opinions on my writing.

Her medical challenges started in the womb. She came out with two feet on one leg. Seriously, eight toes in all. She averted euthanasia as a pup when a veterinarian offered to take a shot at surgery. We never saw her with extra parts. They were gone by the time we called the rescue. Over the years, our spotted girl survived several brushes with serious illness – each time bouncing back as if nothing had happened.

In case you didn’t know, Dalmatians smile. They’re one of the few breeds that can do so. I’ll never forget the first time we saw Penelope smile. She was in intensive care, back before Denver had 24-hour critical care hospitals. She’d spend the day with our regular veterinarian and nights at the emergency hospital.

We walked in one morning, and she smiled. Unfortunately, dehydration made it look more like a grimace because her lips got stuck, which made me cry. We call that face “psycho snoopy lips.” It’s a face only a parent could love.

These days, she lists to the right, on the days she can walk. The rest of the time we carry her or slide her from room to room in her bed. She no longer sleeps in her crate at night, and she hates to be alone. Housetraining is a thing of the past. And, thanks to her we haven’t had a decent night’s sleep since Thanksgiving. She, however, is still going strong.

So today, I leave you with the image of my ancient girl, who still smiles at me every day. She hangs in there, the same way we keep writing despite rejection and doubt. My husband and I joke that our house is constant noise, motion, and stink, which got me thinking, so here’s my wish for you: May you keep writing amidst the commotion, may you recover from rejection, may you keep trying – even when it stinks.

Roxanne Hawn

Trained as a traditional journalist and based in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, USA, I'm a full-time freelance writer for magazines, websites, and private clients. My areas of specialty include everything in the lifestyles arena, including health and home, personal finance and other consumer interests, relationships and trends, people and business profiles ... and, of course, all things pet related. I don't just love dogs. I need them in my life. Seriously.