Follow The Leader

February 2014

If all dogs go to heaven, maybe each bares a distinctive tag that signifies their purpose and accomplishments on earth. Such a tag would reward them for the traits they possess the most, like loyalty, courage, heroism, faithfulness. If such were true, I imagine a silver tag would exemplify resiliency.

Stack the odds high against any dog and I doubt you’d be shocked by the outcome. Of course if I had never known Buddy, I may not stand behind such a statement with as much conviction. But if Buddy were one word, it was resilient, and his countless examples gave proof. More so, they shaped the way I live.

It’s true, there is no finer teacher of resiliency than a dog. Any dog, any size, any breed. I believe they epitomize the definition of the word by demonstrating a most profound example of how to lead a life of faith and hope more than anything else. 

Maybe canines are inertly resilient because of their ancestral instinct to survive in the wild. But maybe it goes beyond inherited DNA. Maybe dogs are gifted at birth with a natural spirit and willpower that us humans are not. Sure there are many of us who have defied the odds and overcome obstacles others thought humanly impossible. But even more of us have not. After all, it’s only human nature to wince in pain, call in sick and complain of our ailments and injuries.

Buddy’s first real demonstration of resilience was when he was six. That was when he jumped off the bed, slipped on the floor and ruptured two discs in his back. With the pressure of his vertebrae on his spinal cord, he could only sit and wait for me to notice that he couldn’t walk. Tears streamed down my face as I tried to hold him up outdoors but he could only relieve himself sitting down. The prognosis was grim, and “risky at best” according to Dr. Paul Howard, one of the countries top canine spine specialists. To say the procedure was costly would be a gross understatement. Buddy’s odds of standing alone and even walking again were at about 50%. Based on the specifics of his injury, I was assured that running and mountain climbing would be out of the question. As if this wasn’t enough, Dr. Howard informed me that I must make a decision immediately as with every minute passing, more damage could be done to his spinal cord. “I respect your decision” he said quietly. “My decision about what?”, I asked. “More often than not with a significant injury to the spinal cord like this, dogs are put down”, he replied. I then learned that payment in full had to be made before any procedure. After my credit was approved I handed Buddy over to Dr. Howard and headed for the parking lot where I sat in my car crying and praying for the next few hours.

Buddy moved slowly that summer, sporting a shaved back with a zipper of over twenty staples. Outside of that rear hind leg dragging a bit now and again he was the same dog, and proved it by climbing Mount Pisgah later that fall as well as six more summits on Camel’s Hump for a total of over thirteen. 

Dog owners know that money time and prayers will only take you so far. Technology and the hands of highly skilled veterinarians will help that much more. But in the long run, a dog’s spirit and will to survive is what will make the difference between life and death, surving versus flourishing. Ultimately, a dogs sense of resiliency will make their quality of life outweigh their years in quantity. And if you follow their example on how to enjoy living fully, as I have in Buddy, you will do more than just merely exist. Your attitude will foster positive regrowth, your spirit will be reborn and you’ll forever be consumed with a reawakened faith, hope and a belief in yourself.

Yes, resiliency is the single most fitting word to describe Buddy. Maybe you share the same sentiment about your dog. Living our lives resiliently, in the eyes of our dogs, warrants a greater sense of what matters most. And when the odds are stacked high against me, I will try to live my life as he had, with a spirit and attitude that could not be broken. And I’ll never lose sight on that brilliantly polished silver tag that hangs proudly around his neck.

JD Green hosts The Breakfast Club on Froggy 100.9. He and his girlfriend Charilyn Williams have started PAWS, Central Vermont’s first ever pet bereavement group. It is free, open to the public, and meets periodically on Wednesday evenings at the VFW Post 790 in Barre at 6:30pm. Please email him at beyondthedog97@gmail.com for more information

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