Life Lessons from our Dog’s Death

 When my husband was out of town on business, my daughter and I Google-ed dog pictures for fun. One adorable image led to another—big round eyes, perky ears, irresistible expressions. Some quick research, some local calls, and soon she and I were in Bloomington at a dog breeder’s home. A black and white ball of fluff bounded out the front door and pranced over to Liza. She sat right down on the lawn and that puppy covered her face with kisses.

“Mom! He’s the one,” she said.

“Dad’s out of town hon, we need to see if he’s on board.”

Liza called Dirk immediately and pleaded. “PLEEEEEEEASE Dad, I already love him!”

She handed the phone back to me. Dirk asked, “Do I even have a choice?”

Nope. It was meant to be.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASo that’s where the time with our Tibetan Terrier started—an ecstatic fourth grade girl and a thirteen-pound pup she named Timmy. The puppy and the girl both grew. She transitioned from lower school to middle school while Timmy transitioned from boundless energy to being trained. He learned to sit, wait, shake, and she learned about history, math, and Spanish.

In the nine years to follow, nieces and nephews got married and friends got divorced, my brother and his wife had a little girl, we said goodbye to Dirk’s dad and my dear aunt, a kidney transplant was thrown in the mix, our new house became a-not-so-new house, businesses were sold, and businesses grew. Before we knew it we planned a high school graduation party and that once fourth grade girl went to college across the country. Changes were big and small, but Timmy was the constant.

He was reliably obedient to his invisible fence boundary, and sat dutifully at attention, perched in the center of our elevated driveway to sit and wait for the neighbors to stop over and say hi. He gave his tail a wagging workout when he spotted his nearby dog friends. He regularly begged me for food, and constantly rang the bell we placed on the back porch door. The training intent was to let us know he wanted to go outside, but it became his indiscriminate communication device. We were left to guess what the swipe of his paw on the bell meant: Do you want go outside? Are you hungry bud? Do you want to play? Lastly, his nighttime curl up with us in the family room, where he cozied into his resting position by the fireplace, was a habit that firmly placed him in the center of our little family.

When he stopped enjoying his food, we knew something was up. We tried to spark his appetite with leftover rotisserie chicken, and he pretty much loved it, but still…he didn’t have the same zest. When he lost the desire to hang out in the driveway, we knew it was worse. His tail didn’t wag in the same way. It was a tired wag. The Vet confirmed our suspicions. Timmy had a serious illness that ate up his red blood cells. We gave him some high-powered medications for four months to try to make him better. We oozed hope. Despite the best of care and lots of love, the treatment did not save his life.

 Now, in the aftermath of his sad death, what remains is the simple reminders he taught us about a good life.

Joy: It was his unflappable sense of daily joy that I liked the best. It didn’t take much to make him happy; the same brown crunchy nuggets of dried dog food got him excited three times day, without fail. When he popped his head out of a window crack as we drove in the car, the destination never mattered; he just delighted in the ride.

Love, Loyalty and Attachment: We were his tribe. He could count on us to care for him, and he was very loyal in return. What a charming thing it is to give so much and expect so little.

 Live in the moment: Timmy wasn’t concerned about comparing one moment to the next. That specialty belongs to people—sometimes we think so much about the past and the present that we forget to notice the now. There is something appealing about the uncomplicated moment-by-moment life of a dog.

 Forgiveness: When we snapped at him, he didn’t hold it against us. And when he stole food from the pantry or chewed up Bounce dryer sheets, his little half cocked head and expressive eyes melted us. All was forgiven.

Compassion: He stirred our compassion because we loved the little guy. When he collapsed and peed on the wood floor, I comforted him and told him it was okay. When he peed again in my car on the way to the Vet, it was just sadness that I felt.

Life is short: I researched the typical life span for a Tibetan Terrier when we first got him. I was planning on at least twelve years. Silly me, the Life Gods must have laughed at my imaginary plans. Of course I knew he would die someday—but I knew it in a far-in-the-future kind of way. It always seems like somehow there will be more time, but the truth is that life is short.

Acceptance: I wonder if Timmy thought to himself, “These silly humans, they try so hard to avoid getting older and accepting what is….” I wonder if he was ready to go, even though he was only nine. Maybe he felt he had fulfilled his time with us somehow.

liza-and-timmy-2I like to think that somewhere his long tail is swinging back and forth again like a sassy high ponytail, and he has unlimited energy propelling him through some golden, endless field. He has a big appetite, and has all the rotisserie chicken his little heart desires. And in that big open field with chicken-a-plenty, he is happy to be unencumbered by illness or fences, invisible or otherwise, as he thinks fondly of us and runs free.



  1. Tim was the sweetest guy. I miss him standing guard across the street. Buddy knew he was gone before I did and went into mourning . . . when they go, they leave behind big holes in our hearts that take time to fill in again. I hope yours will mend soon, Jen.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s