Learning Life Lessons From My Dog

Learning Life Lessons From My Dog
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It was love at first sight when I met my standard poodle, Lenny Bruce, but what I never imagined is how much he’d teach me about love and living.

At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, I began playing an online matchmaking game with dog rescue sites. My family had some specifications for a rescue. We wanted a medium- to large-sized dog that didn’t shed and was good with children, which left us with mostly poodle mixes.

After months of daily searching came up short, I finally understood why people go to breeders when they want a specific pup. Not only are they hard to find at nearby rescues, but also it turns out that many other families are looking for the same qualities!

In May, I was recovering from a severe acute porphyria attack that left me hospitalized for more than a week and bedridden for nearly a month. One afternoon, I was sitting up in bed with my laptop against my thighs, when I stumbled across a listing for a 2-year-old standard poodle. He was beige, with dustings of silver on his face and the fronts of his legs. He had a friendly face and a playful vibe.

I immediately reached out to the rescue, and then reached for my phone to text my people.

I found my dog!

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Our lives have changed significantly in the four months since Lenny found us. We get outside with consistency, we move our bodies for longer periods of time, and we make space to be playful every day.

Lenny is in dog school learning to be a canine good citizen and maybe someday a therapy dog. He’s the oldest dog in his class and typically takes the longest to pick up a new command. Despite those things, I’ve never seen him get discouraged. He doesn’t feel shame for being slow to learn a trick or let it reflect on his self-worth. In fact, during the short amount of time I’ve known Lenny, he’s taught me many important life lessons.

Mindfulness

Animals have much to teach us about living in the moment. Lenny doesn’t mentally repeat his to-do list or worry about what happened on his morning walk. He lives in his body. He is unapologetically himself. He lets go of stressful situations, such as encounters with other dogs, by literally shaking them off.

I recently wrote about my meditation practice and the mindfulness course I am taking. While quietly looking inward is a skill I am learning, Lenny is an expert.

Playfulness

While living with a serious illness and chronic, daily pain, it’s easy to forget to have fun. My dog, on the other hand, easily finds joy every day, no matter what is going on in the world. I give Lenny’s favorite toy a squeak and marvel at his ability to flip the switch from down time to play time.

Appreciating the little things

As far as I can tell, nothing gets Lenny more excited than a car ride. When he’s watching me pack up my purse, put on my shoes, and prepare to leave the house, he’s by my side, waiting to see if he will be invited along. The destination is irrelevant — all that matters is that he gets to ride along with his people.

Acting jazzed to see people

I can think of few more joy-filled moments than arriving home to Lenny. Even if he’s snoozing on his bed, he will run to greet me at the door, with his tail wagging in high gear. He doesn’t care if I scolded him for something naughty before I left or if I’ve only been gone for 10 minutes.

When Claire doesn’t feel well, her standard poodle, Lenny Bruce, doesn’t leave her side. (Photo by Jill Belgarde Photography)

If you ask me, it is no coincidence Lenny found us when he did. It is a time in our lives when things are uncharacteristically slow due to pandemic restrictions, and the limitations of energy imposed by my own body keep us more consistently close to home.

In my personal journey of mindfulness and self-compassion, Lenny offers the gift of his presence and his love. But if I am willing to listen, he teaches me so much more than that.

What would it be like to live in the moment, to be more playful, to be grateful for the little things, and to greet people we love with dog levels of excitement? For those of us raising fur babies, how would our lives be different if we choose to see the world through their eyes?

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Note: Porphyria News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Porphyria News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to porphyria.

Each morning, I make a choice to harness joy, despite navigating pain and day-to-day challenges of living with a rare disease, acute hepatic porphyria. A writer, creator and rare disease advocate, I believe in the power of speaking truth to generate hope and build connections that impact positive change.

I am the Iowa state ambassador for the National Organization for Rare Diseases’ Rare Action Network, serve on the Young Advisory Council of UnityPoint Health Des Moines, volunteer with the American Porphyria Foundation and am co-founder of This Porphyria Life, an online porphyria community for patients and those who love them. I have a Master’s in Public Health from the University of Iowa, and live in Des Moines with my fiance, Michael, and his two children.

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Each morning, I make a choice to harness joy, despite navigating pain and day-to-day challenges of living with a rare disease, acute hepatic porphyria. A writer, creator and rare disease advocate, I believe in the power of speaking truth to generate hope and build connections that impact positive change.

I am the Iowa state ambassador for the National Organization for Rare Diseases’ Rare Action Network, serve on the Young Advisory Council of UnityPoint Health Des Moines, volunteer with the American Porphyria Foundation and am co-founder of This Porphyria Life, an online porphyria community for patients and those who love them. I have a Master’s in Public Health from the University of Iowa, and live in Des Moines with my fiance, Michael, and his two children.

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