Imprints on the Heart and Soul
Celebrating a Pet’s Purpose
by Dianne Reid
There’s a movie coming out on January 27 called “A Dog’s Purpose,” based on a book of the same name by W. Bruce Cameron. In a nutshell, it’s about the multiple lifespans of the same dog, who continues to be re-born into a new life with a new purpose, and comes full circle in the end. I’m sure we can all agree that pets come into our lives with an unwavering purpose to bring us joy and give us unconditional love, but there are also enduring lessons along the way. They often arrive under unexpected circumstances, but always leave their mark on our soul, and on our life experience.
And so the subject for this article was born. A close friend recently lost her beloved dog, so I’ve been searching for the words, or story, to address the pain, but also to provide consolation and hope. Rather than dwelling on the sadness of a lost experience, relationship, or dream, joy comes from embracing hope in the future, the next opportunity on the horizon, the phoenix that rises from the ashes.
Last weekend I went hiking in Zion to clear my head, having recently accepted that my pet store concept would not be realized this year. Emotionally spent, I sought to “calm my mind and soothe my soul” by breathing in the beauty of nature (easy to do in southern Utah). While reflecting on the past year, pondering the future, and musing over how much I missed the company of a dog, I was struck with the most vivid memory of my two dogs in Australia, Ralph and Morgan (they often visit my thoughts when I’m at a cross-roads – obviously, they still have lessons to teach.
Morgan was my uber-loved “soul-mutt” Ridgeback. She came to me at just six weeks of age, on the weekend of my marriage break-up. I was moving into a new house, starting a new job and Morgan was my best friend, my partner in crime, and my hope for a fresh new beginning. We traveled everywhere together, from Australia to America (coast to coast twice), and back to Sydney again.
Upon our return to Sydney following a two year adventure in the U.S., Morgan met Ralph, a young upstart pup of just six months, and they instantly bonded and became best mates (so much so, that I had to marry Ralph’s Dad to keep them together). Ralph was a rescue Rottie/Lab, who – along with his littermates – was dumped at a national park shortly after birth. After four months of outwitting the park rangers, Ralph was the sole survivor. When captured at five months of age, he had a healthy distrust of humans, and had been deemed too risky for adoption. After much pleading and intervention from friends in the industry, Ralph was given the chance at a new life. As it turned out, and as most of you would understand, Ralph was a classic example of “who rescued whom?”
Five years later, Morgan was diagnosed with bone cancer. Without going into detail, I’m sure most of you understand the devastation that occurred in my life, and Ralph’s. We all mourned for years. She left a huge pawprint on my heart, and will always live on there.
Seven years after that, Ralph let me know he was ready to leave this world, having bravely soldiered on through years of acute arthritis, and still suffering from a broken heart himself. We were out on our regular walk down Cronulla Beach in South Sydney, meandering slowly along the shoreline. The walks had gotten shorter and shorter over the past several months, and when we reached the point that day where Ralph would normally turn back, he just kept on walking further up the coast. I tried on several occasions to rest, and then turn back, but he’d stand up and kept heading away from the car, looking over his shoulder, beckoning me to follow.
We were hours into the walk, and I was beginning to worry that he wouldn’t have the strength to make it back to the car before dark. Then he abruptly turned from the water and headed up into the sand dunes. He stood and looked at the path for a long time, then over his shoulder at me, and hurried up the hill. Now, here’s the uncanny part (as I fight back tears at the memory), the last time he and I had taken that particular trail was with Morgan, in the last days of her cancer.
I stood mesmerized watching Ralph climb up the sand dune to the entrance to the trail. At the top, he just stood, looking out over the ocean, back down at me, and then started down the path. There is no doubt in my mind that Morgan was there, beckoning him, and he was simply following her to their next journey together. That was my last walk with Ralphie.
In typical Ralph style, however, he wasn’t about to let me mourn him without remembering his mischievous nature (his nickname was Houdini). Months later, I went back to that same location to spread both his and Morgan’s ashes in the ocean. I waded out about 20 feet into the unusually calm surf, tears streaming down my face, as I spread their ashes and said a prayer, when out of nowhere, a rogue wave came without warning and knocked me on my bum. After being drenched, I looked around and there was not another wave in sight.
At that moment, my sorrow lifted, and I couldn’t stop laughing. And crying. And laughing. There was absolutely no doubt that it was indeed Ralph, being his typical cheeky self, spurred on no doubt by his partner in crime, Morgan. I got the message loud and clear — they had both come into my life at critical times, and had been with me through the good, the bad, and the ugly, providing me with purpose and courage, and yes, even wisdom and inspiration – multiple life lessons. They had lived their purpose, and done a darn good job of helping me to grow and develop at that time in my life. And that day’s lesson was how to let go, be grateful for the special gift I’d been given, and grin confidently at the future.
We often ask, why are pet’s lives so short? To quote a wise six year-old, “People are born so that they can learn how to live a good life – like loving everybody all the time and being nice, right? Well, dogs already know how to do that, so they don’t have to stay as long.”(From “A Dog’s Purpose According to a 6 Year Old” by StomachPunch.)
Here’s some recommended reading that I love: A Big Little Life, by Dean Koontz; The Art of Racing In The Rain, by Garth Stein; A Dog’s Purpose, by W. Bruce Cameron.
I wish everyone a very Happy New Year, filled with peace and gratitude. May you always keep your hearts and minds open to learn from life’s experiences, and welcome every new journey as an opportunity to grow. Never give up. God Bless.