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10 Things the Loss of Our Dog Taught Me About Living

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Losing a pet is heart-wrenching. Anyone who denies this either never had a pet or never had a heart to wrench. We had plenty of time to prepare for our girl's passing, and I mistakenly believed that this would make it easier or somehow a relief when she died. It was not easy and it definitely was not a relief. Zoey was a salty old broad to the end, and the departure of her larger-than-life presence has left us with a huge hole in our world; I can't believe how much I miss her. Of course in thinking about her constantly, (without her incessant barking to distract me from such thoughts), I realize that losing her has given me a new outlook. Zoey was a far greater teacher than I ever understood; if she were here today (and could type) these are some things she would tell us about life:

1) Never bark when a growl will do. Zoey had about 15 variations of the growl...the "stop bothering me" growl, the "something is fishy" growl, the "unexpected noise" growl, the "I'm-still-here-in-case-you-were-wondering" growl...and none of them sounded exactly the same. The girl had TONALITY. She understood that a well-placed growl could pre-empt a lot of unnecessary barking, and she doled them out judiciously. HOWEVER:

2) There is no shame in barking! Again, there were many variations on this theme, but her preferred bark was robust, full throated and frankly piercing. Like most Corgis, her insane barking was just as likely a signifier of joy as of should have heard her go at it every time the UPS truck drove down the street. This is not because she feared or was angered by the's because she and our UPS guy were IN LOVE. Which leads me to her next bit of wisdom:

3) Relationships are the bedrock of a happy existence. Zoey was a shameless flirt and had many admirers (though none as ardent as that UPS guy). Flirting got her pets and treats and all kinds of attention, and she was damned good at it. When we lived in Virginia she had our handsome young mailman wrapped around her little paw, and he was always threatening to carry her away to the glamourous life. Being engaged by people means you like yourself and enjoy others...and you are still open to all the possibilities of life. Like maybe riding around in a mail/UPS truck with a box of milk bones and a smitten dude. Zoey understood this because

4) You have to know the difference between being shameless in your passions and not having any pride. Yes, she was a girl with gusto and endless appetites (for food as well as men who deliver parcels) but she was also a dog with dignity. She had perfected the "I meant to do that" posture to answer any question you might have about her feelings regarding knocking something over or "missing her mark". Zoey was a lady and never let us forget it. Don't you know it's impolite to stare at someone as they inhale their food? Because...

5) Food is AWESOME. Zoey 100% approved of you eating what you like because she literally never met anything edible that she didn't enjoy; gluttony is a well-known Corgi trait and all of our vets over the years marveled at her consistently trim figure. Her huge appetite was never an issue because Zoey realized

6) Exercise is crucial. Okay, okay, so MAYBE she is the only dog in the history of the world who actually HID when she saw her Mom get the leash...but to be fair to her, my legs are very, very long and hers were very, very short, so pace may have been an issue. Also, I take very long walks. A LOT of very long walks. Anyhow, she was slim...

7) But pretty isn't everything. Zoey, again like most of her breed, was a pretty little thing...but she knew it was her BRAINS that made her stand apart. I trained that dog like the Type-A person I not so secretly can be, and got frequent compliments on how GOOD she was...from people who didn't REALLY know her. To know Zoey was to understand...a full 98% of the time when she wasn't either sleeping or eating, she was figuring out ways to work around the rules. I have never been more certain in my life that a dog fully understood what was expected of her. And I have never been more certain in my life of the kind of pleasure she so obviously derived from "outsmarting" those expectations. With her, I found myself quoting the ill-fated Velociraptor wrangler from the first Jurassic Park film on a regular basis: "Clever girl". Because Zoey was more than willing to take the lead...

8) Don't be afraid to take charge. Corgis are herders, and they are bred to be in control of not only animals much, much larger than they are, but also in large numbers. Zoey had absolutely no problem taking command when she saw such a thing was called for...herding can be incredibly useful when you have a lot of small children running about, frankly. She instinctively ran in circles around the errant group, barking her very own version of a camp counselor's whistle... she was not intimidated by size or numbers BUT she also knew

9) It's okay to be vulnerable with people who love you. Zoey was terrified of thunder and would break any house rule to get close to us if a storm was raging. She also hated aggressive dogs and would cower between my legs if approached by one. As much of a fierce little badass as she was, Zoey had her fears and phobias and she knew just where she could bring them to...

10) There's no place like HOME. There is a reason children call the safe zone "home" when they are playing tag. Home isn't a place, it is a feeling. We all have relationships, routines and yes, locations where we feel at home. This is where we go when we feel out of sorts, afraid or lost. Zoey had her safe people, behaviors and places and she knew how and when to utilize them. I hope and pray that she is truly HOME now. Some place with plenty of food, no thunder and lots of gentlemen delivering affection and treats.

This post is part of Common Grief, a Healthy Living editorial initiative. Grief is an inevitable part of life, but that doesn't make navigating it any easier. The deep sorrow that accompanies the death of a loved one, the end of a marriage or even moving far away from home, is real. But while grief is universal, we all grieve differently. So we started Common Grief to help learn from each other. Let's talk about living with loss. If you have a story you'd like to share, email us at