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Gretta’s Gifts–What I Learned from My Dog

This past weekend, we had to put one of our beloved dogs to sleep. Gretta was an eleven-year-old Border Collie. She wasn’t simply an amazing companion to our family, she was family.

I have been a pet lover and owner my entire life. I’ve had guinea pigs, horses, rabbits, chickens, cats, a goat, ducks and many dogs. While I appreciated and cared for each animal, there were only a few I developed a deep bond with and among those few, the bond was deepest with Gretta.

After having lost our boxer to brain cancer, we were ready for a new dog. I had been looking for a few weeks and knew I wanted a Border Collie. I spent my evenings searching BC rescue and our local animal shelter’s online sites. One evening I saw her–one look at her photo and I knew she was the dog for us! There was just that special something in her eyes that pulled me in.

A few emails, application forms, background check and a two-hour drive to an adoption event later, I met my girl! When Gretta came around the corner, her attachment to me was as immediate and thorough as my attachment to her.  As they say, the rest is history.

There is a reason Border Collies are touted as the smartest breed…because they are! Life with Gretta was vastly different from life with our boxer! Gretta challenged us as pet owners. She didn’t wait for us to tell her what to do, she schooled us. She taught us her language, her favorite activities–she loved to play hide and seek–and that she was not just a dog, she was a dog with personality! She played jokes on us; she was a gracious hostess, greeting every visitor to our home with a gift; and she was refined, always crossing her front paws when she laid down. She was an Alpha dog, but also very obedient and well-mannered. In all, she was a perfect pet.

Any pet lover knows we get far more from our pets than we give. I would like to share a few of the gifts and lessons I received from my beautiful Gretta.

Acceptance–The initial photo I saw of Gretta showed a scrawny six-month old shelter dog. I looked past that and saw the warmth in her eyes. I don’t know what she saw in us, but I imagine she saw hope of a good home and family. We accepted one another for the unseen potential. Ironically, Gretta grew into a gorgeous dog and on a regular basis received compliments on her beauty! I try to look at each person I meet with the same level of acceptance–it’s not what’s on the surface that matters.

Generosity–Like I mentioned, Gretta met each visitor to our home with a gift.  She didn’t fret over what to give–sometimes it was mail from the wastebasket, sometimes a hat or shoe, other times a dog toy or chew bone–she just gave. She did this because she wanted to, not because she expected anything in return. I learned to do the same. While I am a little more discerning in my gift giving, I stopped worrying about buying just the right thing or spending a certain dollar amount, and instead give from my heart.

Honesty–A dog is not capable of deception and their lives seem so uncomplicated. If Gretta liked you, you knew it; if not, you knew that too (for the record, there were only two people Gretta did not like–she was far better at acceptance than I ever will be!). If she was tired, she slept; hungry, she ate; and bored, she made me get up and do something with her. I loved the simplicity and honesty of her life.

Patience and understanding–Because I work from home and Gretta and Becca were my daily companions, I learned a great deal about patience and understanding. We had our routine, but like people, sometimes dogs are off. Reading Gretta was easy, but understanding what was going on often proved challenging. This lesson is probably the most utilized–I am good at realizing each person and/or their situation is more than what shows on the surface and I take time to see what lies beneath a mood or action. Gretta taught me greater empathy for others.

Live now!–While dogs are creatures of habit, Gretta was also spontaneous. There were times we would be hanging around the house and she would jump up and start running around. She would entice me into a game of tag or to go out and enjoy the day. Gretta loved the warm sunshine, but she also loved to stand and feel the rain on her coat. She lived in the same house her entire life, but each and every day she explored her surroundings, found new things of interest, and connected with her doggy friends. She lived in the moment and taught me to do the same. Her passing has reminded me there are people and activities in my life that are draining and I need to eliminate them in order to live more fully.

Trust instinct/intuition–As humans, we want to control every aspect of life, but a dog knows how to just be. We are also equipped with instinctive and intuitive capabilities and need to trust ourselves more. I used to seek outside approval, input, and influence, but over the years I have relied less on that and more on myself and it has served me far better.

Be yourself–I am smiling as I reflect on Gretta’s personality. She was such a big ham! I bought her and Becca (our surviving BC) bandanna scarves all the time. Gretta loved getting dressed up to go out! I would tie a scarf around her neck and she would prance around like she was wearing fine jewels. Sometimes she would work the scarf off her neck and onto her head and come into the room looking like a grandma wearing a head scarf. Honest-to-God, Gretta would smile when she made us laugh! She loved her winter coat, but she must have believed Becca’s was bad…she liked to pull it off her and throw it on the floor, then both dogs would run from it! Gretta loved going shopping at the “doggy store” for new collars, the more princessy the better! The point I’m trying to make is, Gretta didn’t need designer duds to define her, but she loved a good accessory to reflect her personality.

Accept attention–By nature I’m a caretaker, I give more than I accept, but Gretta taught me to allow others the opportunity to take care of me, too. Gretta loved to be brushed and could never get enough. The time and attention I gave her while brushing her was her favorite time; it also became my favorite time. It was a time for us to bond, a time for her to receive my undivided attention, and a time for her to be cared for. In brushing her, I relaxed, focused my attention on Gretta instead of the million other things going on in life, and we both let down our defenses. The pure joy and relaxation I saw in her often brought me to tears, longing for that same peace. I have learned to schedule more massages, enjoy a good spa day, and to let others care for me (a little) more.

Love–It’s funny to reflect on love and realize there was not one single moment of life with Gretta that I wondered, “Does she love me?” I knew it, without doubt. She would snuggle, she would wag her tail, she would talk to me, and I could see it in her eyes. I can truly say she never doubted the love I had for her either. There were no games, just connection. I have made it a point to communicate with my loved ones more clearly, to let them know I love them and appreciate who they are on a regular basis. Do the same, don’t leave people wondering.

Gretta’s end came too soon for me, but she left me with a heart full of love and memories. On Gretta’s last day–not knowing it would be her last–I am happy to say all the things she taught me came into play.  I played with her, brushed her, talked to her, gave her a home-cooked meal, snuggled with her, went exploring with her and allowed her to make me laugh. I had things to do, but they could wait…spending time with my girl was what my heart wanted and needed in the moment. I am grieving, but know I gave Gretta unbiased, unrestrained love and a great place to live out her life. She gave so much more than that.

That’s all I’ve got for today. Have a great day and live like Gretta lived!

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14 comments on “Gretta’s Gifts–What I Learned from My Dog

  1. Reblogged this on theyellowkite and commented:

    Today, Mother’s Day, happens to also be the one-year mark of losing our furry family member, Gretta. My heart still aches from that loss, but I also continue to embrace the many gifts Gretta brought into my life. Today, in honor of Gretta, I am again sharing one of The Yellow Kite’s most popular posts:

    • Funny this came to me today, Mother’s Day, almost a year after I lost my sweet baby girl….how I still miss her! It’s not the hard grief I felt immediately after her death — I found this article only 5 days after she died, unexpectedly, in her sleep — but the long dull pain that replaces it…..when you know something very important has been torn from your heart and soul, and there is no way to get it back, not ever, not in this lifetime.

      It meant a lot to me last year, and it means a lot right now. Greta was very blessed to have you as her “dog mommy” as you were blessed to have Greta in your life!

      • Laurel, I’m so sorry you, too, lost a dear one. I understand the long, dull pain you refer to. And while time does help, there will forever be an empty spot in our hearts. The best we can do–to heal ourselves and honor our pets–is to to our best to fill that hole with wonderful memories and gratitude for the time we had together. I am glad you found some value in this post and I wish you peace in your grief.

      • Yellowkite, thank you for those kind words. It is very much how I feel. This article meant a lot to me in the days (and it was literally a few days!) after I lost my Sasha, and because I think your Gretta was a very similar sort of border collie, and you also lost her…well not young, but too young for a BC (they can live to 14 or 15 and that’s what I had anticipated for our dog). I can tell Gretta had more than a few traits in common with Sasha, and surely that is why you loved her so dearly. The phrase “she was refined, always crossing her front paws when she laid down” made tears come to my eyes — our dog did PRECISELY this, from the very first when we took her home from the dog pound…jumped into our van as if she had been ours from the beginning, sat on the middle bench seat, and daintily crossed her paws! I’ve never seen a dog do this before. We used to call her “the lady dog” because she was consistently so gentle, polite and sweet.

        Yes, our memories are wonderful and special indeed, and I can’t imagine my life if I had not had this very special dog in it. My heart goes out to you. A year is a “marker” in my religious faith, where you transition from active grief to going on with the future — necessary of course. But never easy.

  2. Thank you for your story. I was in tears. We lost OUR precious little girl Sasha on June 18, 2012 — she died in her sleep. She was only 11 years, 8 months old. I got her June 2001 at age 9 months. She was the light of our lives! We can’t imagine our lives without her….like you, I have had many MANY cats, several dogs, birds, etc. and loved them all dearly, and yet she stands out — a gentle princess, with a huge loving heart. Only another dog-owner understands the loss of that unconditional love.

    • Laurel, I am so sorry for your loss. I know it doesn’t feel like it right now, but the pain will ease. I miss my Gretta every day, but I find so much joy in the memories, lessons, and love she brought to my (our) life. Hold your memories of Sasha in your heart and let them bring you peace. My best to you and your family.

      • Thank you for your kind thoughts; your Gretta was the same breed and age as our Sasha. It seems too young to die, when many dogs live to 15 and 17 and longer. I’ve lost other pets, other dogs — but she was really special. I don’t know how to go on without her somehow. I need more than sweet memories. But thanks for your words.

  3. We recently had to take our beloved Chocolate lab to the pound for that final visit. He was a pound rescue, too. I share your hurt, though I know you can take comfort in wonderful memories. I know everywhere we have turned, our house has offered up a memory of Fudge, and I’m sure your house is handing you Greta moments in the same way. My Mom offered me comforting words. She said we can be kinder to our pets than to each other. That knowledge has been a source of strength to me. I’m visiting from the Velvet Verbosity linky, but I saw your note at the top of the page and had to come here first.

    • Thank you! We are finding peace and slowly regaining our bearings. “It is better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all”…I wouldn’t have it any other way!

  4. O Christine, I am so sorry for the loss of your sweet Gretta. I had to make that difficult decision twice in the last seven months and I can appreciate what you are going through. Your grief is so recent & raw. Please know that my thoughts and best wishes are with you and your beloved companion.
    Hugs, Mary (oldsongbird)

  5. Christine,
    My heart is with you, my arms wrapped around you.
    My sympathies with your loss of such a wonderful family member.
    You describe so well the gifts that our furry family members bring to us.
    Unconditional love, living in the present, how to just plain be.
    Greta, Becca and all of our fuzzy family members are true examples of how to keep our heart space open, no matter what.
    If we close ourselves off to feel no pain or sorrow, we close ourselves off to feeling love.
    Here’s to Greta, a wonderful teacher, friend and family member.
    She lives on in our hearts!

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