Guided by paw prints: on a faithful companion’s 15th birthday

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If this isn’t a vision of happiness, I don’t know what is

I spent this cold, rainy Sunday afternoon making a batch of dog biscuits for G-Dog, who’s turning 15 tomorrow. The average lifespan for a German Shorthaired Pointer is roughly 12 years, so we’re into the bonus days, weeks, months and, clearly, years.

We humans compulsively track time, often looking towards what’s next before appreciating what’s in the immediate now. We pack 12 hours of work into an 8-hour day. We measure success by how little we’ve slept. We measure happiness in the quantity of things checked off a list in a given interval.

Dogs, seemingly, just are: guided by their instinctual juices to feed and frolic and, erm, procreate; appreciative in the immediate moment for the warm, soft beds, designer food, sunny spots in the park, long walks in the forest, the home-baked dog treats we reward them with for being our unconditionally-loving companions.

By no small fault of dog ownership, it’s me who’s guided less by tallying doing points these days, and more by paw prints. He walked into my heart as I walked into his world at 8 weeks old, a roly-poly belly with legs and spots and ears too big for his too-big-for-its-body head. “That one” I said; it took me two weeks to convince my (then-future) ex that this was my soul-dog.

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G-dog at 10 weeks

Gus has spent half of his years in my old life and half in my new one. His unfailing companionship when I’ve had to do all the adulting on my own has made him a guide dog of sorts; and he’s made me proud to be his person.

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This old-man-dog is lumpier and slower than ever. He’s creaky and weird and woofs at bedtime even tho he’s more than a little bit deaf… he can’t catch (truth be told, he never could!), nor can he run more than a block anymore. He mooches treats from unsuspecting strangers and yet has more dog friends than I have people.

He’s taught me patience and resilience.

He’s taught me that what’s really important is who shows up when you’re down, not who shows up only when they need something or when you look your absolute best.

He’s helped strangers overcome their fears.

He’s shown me that sweetness gets you more treats than trickery; as does brains over brawn.

He helps make awkward pauses not-so.

He helps me find humour on the darkest of my dark days.

He’s helped those last 1500 steps go much quicker on a blizzardy February day, and knows how to work a morning walk when the weather is absolutely unbearable for (wo)man or beast.

He helps me take pause to watch a sunrise or a sunset.

…and insists we take an extra 5 (or 15 or 35) minutes out of a busy afternoon to revel in an unseasonably warm day.

He makes sure we stop and smell (or take photos of) the flowers. And the birds. And the morning tide.

And he’s gotten me lost in the woods so many times I think it’s deliberate.

He’s made habit of sticking his big head in my lap when I’m working from home and knows I need a break.

He helps me not take the stressful days so personally.

And helps make weekend days seem hours longer (ok, usually because we’ve gotten lost in the woods, but still…); the personal days becoming not-so-stressful

He shows me how to turn an ordinary walk on the beach into a treasure hunt.

He’s chased scary guys during walks, tho more often it’s the not-so-scary squirrels and pigeons and cats he’s after.

He helps me be a little braver in a weird and sometimes daunting world.

Reaching 15 years is a Big Dog Deal, yet he really doesn’t care about birthdays (or Tuesdays or Christmas or Hallmark holidays) because it’s the little things that are more important. Look: squirrel! Yay, stick! Yum, sun-baked crab legs on the beach! What if we learnt from these amazing creatures that we’re here to make a difference? What if we approached each day as if it was the only thing that mattered? What if rolling in that warm spot in the middle of the park is the absolute best thing you could do because it’s the only thing you’re doing in the moment?

We have to pay attention to what dogs can teach us about the present. Maybe they know they aren’t here long enough to take what is for granted. Maybe they know something that we don’t about the future: that it doesn’t really exist.

So here’s to celebrating a milestone in dog-years, and here’s to the people who Gus has touched over this past decade and a half. Here’s to Dog-a-Thons and Dogtown and dog ice cream and dog-friends. Here’s to #instagus and #dogwisdom. Here’s to woods bombing and swimming in the sea.

Here’s to making the most of what we’ve got to work with, and to learning what we can from each day.

Written by

Instructional Designer, writer, photographer, wanderer, reluctant but sometimes sparkly introvert, curious one, believer in magic.

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