Lessons from an old dog make sense for everyday living

Posted: Sunday, October 31, 2004

About a month ago, our oldest dog, Chester, gave my husband and I quite a scare.

Chester is 15, and we've been watching his health closely, knowing that larger dogs have a tendency to go downhill faster than little dogs.

Mark and I have five (yes, five!) golden retrievers. Chester is the original Anderson golden. Mark had him when I met him. He was his hunting dog in Montana.

Chester's job was to run in the field ahead of Mark and scare up the birds for Mark to shoot. Together, they truly refined Mark's hunting skills.

One time I actually went with Mark and I do mean just once.

We were walking through a field, when suddenly the sound I heard wasn't quite the ruffling of feathers, but rather the crisp, distinct sound of a rattle as in the kind on the end of a snake's tail.

Mark quickly aimed and shot. He saved my life. I had to marry him, now.

In the meantime, while all this drama was taking place, Chester was still out there running around, or so we thought. The field was silent. Chester had run himself into exhaustion and was laying out there somewhere. Once we found him, we got him back to the truck, but he was limp, wouldn't drink, wouldn't do anything. Mark poured water on him to cool him off and we rushed him to the vet, who said if we wouldn't have done that, Chester surely would have died.

Chester has always been independent. He's never really come when you call him, and as we added more siblings to the clan, he never found them as amusing as they found him. His attitude has always been that of W.C. Fields: "Go away, kid, you bother me!"

Still, he had to be near the action, just to make sure he never missed anything.

A couple of months ago, we noticed Chester's appetite dwindling. We kept tabs on any signs of change and called the vet. A month ago, our concerns grew, and we took him in to see the vet.

From his previous visit, three months prior, Chester had lost an astounding 12 pounds. That's a lot for a dog.

Our concerns were justified, as the vet found a large lump in a place where there shouldn't be one. Surgery was in order.

By now, Chester was not a happy camper. We talked about doing what was best for him, knowing the surgery could very well be his last moments.

It was a difficult time, and we spent a great deal of extra time pampering and spoiling him more than usual.

The day of the surgery was tough. We hung by the phone, waiting for any word. It came, and it was good news: Chester had a 3-pound tumor removed, was recovering and doing wonderful.

When Mark went to visit him, Chester tried to get up to see him. Imagine that.

Since that day, Chester has made a remarkable no, an amazing recovery.

He continues to improve each day and is doing something he hasn't done in almost a year: wagging his tail. He's playing with the others, eating to his heart's content and gaining weight and he's living life to the fullest as part of the family.

Mark and I are amazed. In fact, the whole experience has taught us that there are some valuable lessons to learn from Chester:

1. Enjoy each meal. While Chester may take it much further than I would by rolling around on the floor there's a lot to be said for taking the time to delight in the bounty before you.

2. Take leisurely walks. My most favorite time of day is when I let all the dogs out and we take a short walk around the yard. It isn't so much where we go, but that we are doing it together. It's a great opportunity to forget about everything else.

3. Let sleeping dogs lie. Nothing is sweeter than watching a dog dream, whether it is running, talking or wagging its tail. Enjoy the simple pleasures.

4. Don't forget to play. Chester is having more fun than he's had in a long time. He's chasing the ball even the fact that he's running after it is impressive at his age! You're only as old as you feel.

5. Don't forget to wag your tail. It is so obvious that Chester is enjoying his life. We didn't know how unhappy he was until now. He's a big part of the family again, and he's stopping to smell the roses, the trees, the rocks, the dirt ... and really, isn't that what life is all about?

In four months, Chester will turn 16. When he gets there and we have no doubt he will it's going to be some party. After all, life should always be a celebration. Don't you agree?

Dori Lynn Anderson is the assistant editor of the Peninsula Clarion.

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