5 Lessons from a Dog on Overcoming Life’s Hardest Challenges

Golden Retriever

“A challenge only becomes an obstacle when you bow to it.” ~Ray Davis

I remember very clearly the first moment I saw our dog, Carmichael, or Carmy, as we called her for short.

One tiny pup in a litter of eight Golden Retrievers, it was love at first sight, and I knew she was “the one.” As the years progressed, she became my best friend, confidante, and companion. We were inseparable.

Opening the front door when returning from school, she would be there waiting, wagging her tail, with the biggest grin on her face.

She would patiently wait for me to finish my homework, and then we would head out for her turn to play. At night I even wanted her to sleep in my bed; however, Carmy had other ideas and liked sleeping on the floor. It was clear for all to see that we had a bond that could never be broken.

Our lives together were filled with fun, frolic, and sharing; and as I grew older, so did she.

As she entered her early senior years, she began to develop hip problems and started to go blind. But devastating as this may have been to us humans, Carmy handled it with grace and love.

She refused to let the situation bother her, and instead, always insisted on living each moment to the fullest, residing completely in the here and now, with me.

We enjoyed thirteen precious years together. Through it all, Carmy was my hero and my champion. She overcame every obstacle thrown her way, and always met challenge with a big smile.

5 Life Lessons Courtesy of Carmy

1. Always find something to be happy about.

As Carmy got older, we discovered that she had diabetes, which meant we had to give her two shots each day. However, she always showed determination to be positive.

Instead of getting depressed after the painful jabs, she simply romped off, as only a Golden Retriever can, looking for food and living for the moment once more.

Indeed, dinner was one of her favorite events of the day, and she was always the first at the table with an exalted expression of delight if she discovered a fallen crumb.

When I lost my career and livelihood due to a series of self-inflicted crises, I became depressed and went through the grieving process. When I fell into those moments of feeling sorry for myself, I looked to Carmy as inspiration and tried to find something that brought me joy. In my case, it turned out to be cooking.

My sister and I made a pact. We agreed to get together every weekend to rustle up a new dish. For those few fantastic hours, we would craft, create, slice, and dice. During those times I experienced complete happiness.

I realized now how Carmy had felt and appreciated the sheer wonder of living completely in the moment.

Whatever you’re going through, you can find something that will bring you joy. You just have to be open to it.

2. Enjoy the ride.

As you already know, diabetes required us to give Carmy two shots every day. Her partial blindness made it difficult for her to see, and toward the end of her life, her joints started to bother her. Yet you would never find Carmy worried about the future, or depressed about the loss of her youth or mobility.

She just continued to reside firmly in the present, relishing every scratch of her ears. She thrived on wagging her tail whenever visitors arrived, and made it her purpose in life to be “master-cleaner,” licking every floor in the house!

When I discovered that my dad had been diagnosed with terminal cancer, I thought my world would end.

My mind was a flurry of “what ifs” and “whys.” During that time, I found great inspiration in thinking of Carmy. It reminded me to focus on what was in front of me—my dad. We had fourteen spectacular months together, and I am very grateful that I was with him during that time.

It may seem like your world is ending, but you’re still here—and there are still things to appreciate and enjoy.

3. Adapt to change.

Carmy and I had always lived out lives inseparably, and as a result, she always used to travel with me in the car. However, when her joints made hopping into the car too painful, I found a portable step stool, which enabled her to clamber in carefully and gently.

It was all that she needed. She continued to sit in the back, and I could see her usual grin from the rear view mirror.

After my dad passed away, I knew my life would never be the same again. That painful period could have easily sent me into spiraling depression. However, the thought of Carmy and her incredible ability to adapt led me to understand that, although there’s not one day that I don’t miss my dad, my relationship with him did not have to stop.

I learned to develop a new one, based on spirituality, and focused on carrying on his legacy. Carmy taught me that when we are patient, we can adapt to new life changes.

4. Same routine, different methods.

Even when Carmy was suffering badly with her illnesses, she tried to stick to her usual routines. She continued to go outside, though of course, couldn’t walk as far. On those walks, she still focused on sniffing the grass, examining the trees, and occasionally bringing her favorite stick inside.

Her life was based on a specific regime, and she even took her naps around the same time. Carmy didn’t allow any of her challenges to overtake her life.

It took me a long time to emerge from the violent storm of emotion that submerged me when my dad passed away. And again, remembering Carmy, I continued my routines until I began to appreciate how they offered me renewed stability and comfort while navigating my new reality.

Your life may be changing, but you can create some consistency, and that can bring you great comfort.

5. Live the moment, and make the most of it.

You already know that Carmy was something of a foodie. Her favorite food was her weekend bagel.

Every weekend, we would buy bagels; and every weekend, Carmy would seize hers, then rush out to the backyard to bury it. She would take the time to find the perfect spot to hide it, then proceed with her particular burying process.

As she grew older, her beloved habit of romping off into the yard with her bagel also changed. Her age brought about something quite curious, because although she couldn’t run off and bury them, she did develop a new habit.

She would take her bagels and bury them inside. I would discover bagels under rugs, in the trashcan, and even under the carpet.

It was during the time that I had made bad decisions in my career that I felt myself on the brink of falling apart. Once again, I found myself looking at the lessons Carmy had taught me.

When a friend suggested a job that I wasn’t really interested in, I decided to take it, in order to give me the chance to re-examine my life, focus on my passion, and figure out how I might contribute in the world.

Be open to different possibilities. Trying new things just may enable you to make the best of your new reality.

Carmy, in her inimitable ways, provided a wonderful example of how I wanted to approach life. She taught me lessons about bravery and helped me understand how to overcome challenges. Those lessons will stay with me forever. I hope they’ll stick with you too.

Golden retriever image via Shutterstock

About Hilary Neiman

Hilary Neiman is a chief crisis strategist at The Crisis Academy. Hilary, along with her partner and the animals at the Crisis Academy, help people overcome their personal crises.

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