Jun 10

Protecting Special Gifts

It happened at the lake, some years ago. I was recovering from surgery. During my healing process my husband rented a house at Smith Mountain lake. He wanted to give me some time away from the stress of running a pet care facility. Bed & Biscuit was a great love of mine, especially then. But a large boarding kennel is not easy to manage when you are not feeling well. I had been struggling, and needed a break.

It had been a peaceful week...time for reading and reflection. I missed my dogs though, as the rental agency had no "pet friendly" homes available that week. Yet there was also something freeing about having a week with no living creatures depending on me every moment of the day.

On the day of our departure I walked down to the lake for a few last glimpses of the mountain and the water lapping quietly at the rocks. Like many, the rented cottage sat on a hill, and one had to walk down an incline to the dock. Walking back up proved a bit difficult, as I was not totally healed from abdominal surgery. I spotted a good sized flat rock and decided to sit for a moment...resting before climbing the last thirty feet or so back to where the packed car was waiting.

As I was catching my breath, I suddenly saw, coming through the trees to my right, a large black dog. Despite his graying muzzle, this older Labrador came trooping through the woods, along with a younger Basset Hound...the two were a picture of joy on that early day of autumn.

Obviously well cared-for, the dogs' tags attested that they belonged to a nearby neighbor. After greeting me with sloppy dog kisses, they settled right in as if they were my own. The older Lab fellow walked a couple of feet away and lay down in a watchful post, while the female Basset sat leaning against my leg.

As I looked at the lovely old Retriever, I felt comforted, as he seemed to be protecting me in some way. As his sweet dark eyes glanced back at me, however, I received a totally different thought. I heard a soft, Fatherly voice say "Melanie, dogs are not given to protect, instead they are a gift to be protected by you, just like children are gifts to be protected."

This was a defining moment for me as a dog trainer and behavioral consultant. I knew that many people, even those who did not own guardian type breeds, looked to their dogs to protect them. We have all read stories of dogs offering their owners physical protection in the face of danger. Some of us have even experienced this on occasion. And of course we know that our dogs are great sound alert systems. But 99% of the time, our dogs need us to protect them, not vice versa.

Relationships with dogs are complex. But I am sure the voice I heard was true. Dogs are a gift. And we are not only protected, but we must offer protection...always. I have been honored with many gifts through the years. Tonight I am missing a very special one...Martin, the dog shown in this photo.  I lost him a little less than a year ago. He was almost 15 years old, and was with us for 13 years. But it was not enough...with some, no matter how much time you have...you still want more.  I miss you, my Martin, you were my best boy. I know you are strong again now...free to run and play. I will see you again, someday.

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Comments (8)
  • Joni  - Re: Protecting Special Gifts

    Hi Melanie - Loved this entry, even though it did make me cry. I certainly know how you feel.

  • Inglath Cooper  - So true

    Melanie, lovely, and so true. I know there are many dogs who have been lucky enough to have had you as theiir guardian angel.

  • Patty

    It amazes me the closeness that can be seen in this photo posted with you & Martin. I know how special he was to you. You gave him a special home and I am so thankful that you had him. I had so much fun showing him in Pennsylvania at the National to his Award of Merit win. What an experience that was!!
    Thank you for bringing tears to my eyes tonight and for reminding me of memories that will last a lifetime.

  • Marcia Okabayashi Martin

    Melanie, thanks for sharing this article. Just beautiful. If you still remember, I have Bella and Star, 13 and 14 years old... Bella has bad arthritis, Star had 3 episodes of Vestibular disease, she can't do steps anymore and is using a special harness. I can just testify how much my dogs have taught me to be who I am and I'm a better person because of them.

  • Melanie S

    Marcia, it is so hard when they get old but you are right, they do teach us so much. Just helping them through the rough days and keeping them comfortable I think also helps us realize how much older (or sick) people go through and helps us be more compassionate to others. Miss you and enjoy seeing photos of your little boy on FB Marcia.

  • Melanie S

    Patty, thank you again for sharing Martin and Dakota with me. Dave is having a rough week and it is making me sad, and also reminding me of the last year we had with Martin, when he had so much trouble getting around. Miss Dakota though, she was spry up until her last few days--what a character she was!

  • Marsha Rogers  - My Sweet Polly Purebreed...I'll miss you forever

    That was really beautiful Melanie, and yes, Polly as well as all of my dogs and fosters are gifts from above. I've learned different life lessons from each of them, because they each have their own unique personality. Polly was special, she taught me all about the beagle breed and from there I grew to love the breed. She taught me to keep my nose to the ground and go wherever it leads me...sure to find adventure at the end! I too, will miss my Sweet Polly Purebreed forever as you will miss your Martin.

  • Robin B  - Protecting Special Gifts

    Beautiful story and so very true. It's been 1-1/2 years since Marley, I think of him everyday and I miss him so much. He taught me more than I could ever image and made me a better person.

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