Life Lessons for 2017 from a Golden Retriever

By Wendy Crawford

2016 was definitely not my favorite year. It was a year of challenges, injuries, shockers and even sadly, some losses. In speaking with many of my friends, not everyone had a year like this but there is a general consensus that we couldn’t wait for 2016 to be over.
I've heard everything from "The stars are not aligned", “There is negative energy in the air” to “The universe is not happy”. (As I am writing this, my leg is twitching due to the fact I broke my hip a few weeks ago and my computer just locked up - sigh!)
So how do we cleanse the negativity? What do we do to make 2017 our best year yet?
Well, I do know that I cannot realign the stars nor cheer up the entire universe. I can, however, reflect on these difficult times and dig deep to see what I can glean for the years to come. I do believe it is true that we need to go through darkness, in order to see and appreciate the light.
Probably the most heartbreaking moment for me this year was losing my beloved golden retriever, Summer, just before Christmas.
 I grew up my entire life having a dog, in fact, always black labradors. When my last one passed away, I was absolutely devastated and didn't ever want to feel the pain that comes with such a loss. Gradually, over the years, I considered getting another dog but would not commit until eight years later.

A friend of mine called me one day and said how would you like to adopt a nine month old female golden retriever? The owners could not handle her and had left her permanently outside. I was hesitant but it seemed like it was meant to be since I, coincidentally, had been thinking about getting a female golden retriever and she needed a home.
I'll never forget the day that she arrived. She barreled into the house, immediately knocked my future husband flat on his back, ran to the bathroom, grabbed a roll of toilet paper and proceeded to bound around the house! All I could think was "What did I get myself into?".
Given that I have a high-level spinal cord injury and her high-level energy, It was clearly apparent that I needed to find a good trainer ASAP, if this was going to work. After many months of hard work and hair-pulling frustration at times, she gradually calmed down and learned to help me,  picking up dropped items, opening doors and getting help for me. She never left my side when we were together (even when I was in the bathroom!) and became my protector, my best friend and my child, all rolled into one.
Don't get me wrong, despite all her training she still was a little crazy at times and never lost her spunk which I truly adored! There wasn't a day that she did not make us laugh, no matter what was going on in our lives. Although I taught her many things, in hindsight, she really was the teacher.
There was not one molecule of negativity in, nor surrounding her.  I’ve decided to share only a few of the invaluable, life-changing lessons that I learned from her in our short 10 years of being together.
Thank you my dear Summer. I will treasure you and these priceless gifts forever.

She always stayed by my side even if there were more fun activities elsewhere. If I wasn’t feeling well and stuck in bed, she stayed with me, as boring as it was. Imagine if we were as loyal to our friends and family?

Take Time to Play:
There were many a day that I would be at my computer in the late afternoon and I would feel someone staring at me. There she would be sitting next to the front door, signaling me that it was time to take a break. Often I would be a little anxious, knowing that I had a pile of work to be done; but I would stop and spend time with her playing hide and seek or going for a walk. I don't know who benefited more. The break rejuvenated me and actually increased my productivity in the long run. There will always be work so take time to play.

Get Outside & Just Be:
One of her most favorite activities was to go for a walk, no matter what the weather. I would get in my power chair with her leash attached and off we would go! When we found out that she had an aggressive form of cancer, the vet was adamant that exercise was too risky due to internal bleeding and eventually she became too weak anyway. She loved being outside but would want me with her so I bundled up and we would sit together outside and just be. It was so peaceful - we would watch the birds and breathe in the fresh air. I have decided I'm going to continue the routine. There's nothing more refreshing and revitalizing than getting outside.

Do What Makes You Happy (No matter how silly you look!)
One of her favorite activities was to roll on her back in the grass with her legs flailing in the air or rubbing her face on her bed, making snorting sounds. Be spontaneous and do what you love to do!

Simple Can Be Fun:
Make the best of a simple day or activity and enjoy the moment. She could make an adventure of just going into the basement looking for a box or racing from the car to the front door.

Time is Precious:
Since we said good-bye to Summer, I've passed a few parks that I meant to take her to walk but didn't make it a priority. We have all heard it. "Time is precious." "Life goes by too quickly.", yet we often ignore these thoughts and miss opportunities of enjoyment or time with our loved ones. 

Connect with Someone Else's Soul:
When we would go for walks, more often than not, we would meet someone along the way. We would stop to talk to a neighbor or someone just curious about her. Many of these people that we encountered have become lifelong friends. She taught me to take the time to connect with the soul of others rather than passing by, in a hurry.

Unconditional Love & Forgiveness:
Most importantly, she taught us unconditional love. It didn’t matter if we were cranky and perhaps short with her or having a bad day. Forgiveness was automatic and she loved you like you were the most important person ever!

I wonder how enriched our lives and world will be in 2017, if we followed these simple lessons from a beautiful golden retriever. I’m going to give it a try!

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