Gretta’s Gifts–What I Learned from My Dog

(Originally posted May 14, 2012)

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!