My wonderful buddy, Mr. Cody, turns 16 years old on June 10th. In honor of his special day, and the great life we've shared for more than six years, I'm dedicating this post to him. I submitted a story to Chicken Soup for the Soul a few years ago about this wonderful Cocker Spaniel, but the story didn't make the cut. So, here it is!
My Treasure: A Gentle Dog's Persevering Spirit
He looked up from the cage, brown eyes drooping, as if he wanted to cry. Spaniels have that look, especially when confined to a 5x5 cage in a room with numerous barking, howling dogs. His russet-colored fur, and the fact he was a cocker spaniel, caught my attention, but those eyes... longing, pleading, spoke to my heart.
The director of the animal shelter told me this dog, named Cody, had been used as a stud in breeding facility, and at age 10, was dropped off because his services were no longer required; his retirement for years of service, profiting the breeder – locked in “doggie jail.” I looked at him again as the matronly manager said, “Small dogs are popular, but at his age, his chances of adoption are slim.”
Our eyes met – his and mine. I briefly reflected upon the cocker spaniel I'd had as a younger woman, the one I'd lost eight years prior. An amazing, devoted companion, that dog had been.... They resembled one another in certain ways, this “Cody” and my “Sam,” yet this dog seemed sadder than Sam had been. Of course, he'd recently been discarded, and perhaps his life prior had been no picnic. His plight, and his rejection by those in charge of his care, tugged at my heart, like harpstrings tenderly caressed. Two days later, after a neutering and a grooming, Cody came home with me. That was five years ago.
Now, nearly 16 years old, Cody's gentle spirit still prevails. Despite being discarded by his previous owners, he settled into our home and lapped up the love we've bestowed. And, he's returned it in spades! He gives what we call “Cody hugs”, standing on his hind legs (when they'll hold him) and stretching forward to lay a furry cheek against a human cheek. Though gentle and loving towards me and my family, Cody becomes the “guard dog” while my husband is away. He often lays near the front door, keeping vigil, ever watchful for those who may try to harm me. He barks at noises and at people, inside the house and outside, alerting whoever or whatever that a dog guards this home and its people!
Cody's persevering spirit has also been vigilant these past few years. His arthritic body causes him to move much more slowly, and somewhat unsteadily, but, move he does: down the block for short walks, through the house to see where I'm at, through the pine-covered forest of our summer cabin property, up and down stairs of our home in town. Those movements are more greatly hindered, however, from a torn ACL three years ago. But, you can't keep a good dog down! He may be slow and unsteady, but he is also persistent, and he doesn't want to miss out on jaunts through the woods or around the block – he doesn't want to miss out time with his people! Those sojournings may be short, but, especially at the mountain property, they are many, for, even at 15 years of age, my persevering little cocker spaniel enjoys smelling for birds, squirrels, and other creatures of the forest – and I am happy to oblige him!
Four years ago an outing to the cabin resulted in a near catastrophe. That summer we had a major infestation of moths in the area, and Cody attempted to eat as many as he could. Like a vacuum cleaner, he sucked them up, and for the remainder of the night, he drooled like a St. Bernard. By morning, he was weak and dehydrated and we rushed him to the vet. Diagnosed with an auto immune disorder a few years prior, Cody's internal organs nearly shut down from the bacteria obtained from the moth invasion to his innards. He was hospitalized for nearly three days. Once again his persevering spirit kicked in... and he no longer eats moths!
Cody's aging, his health setbacks, and his gentle yet protective nature inspire me. As I age and experience setbacks in health, finances, or other aspects of life, I look no farther than the cocker spaniel I adopted more than five years ago to discover encouragement. His russet coat has now faded to tan with speckles of white, much like my chocolate hair is woven with silver. Yet, he doesn't let age or health deter him from his course – preserving through life gently, with dignity, love and loyalty, Cody inspires to me age gracefully as well. Instead of a bitter, back-thinking spirit of “what if's” and “why nots,” I need to be more grateful for the here and now... just like Cody. Oh, he could lay on a blanket in the corner bemoaning the fact he can't walk as far or that his former owners rejected him, just as I could lay in bed cursing my arthritic knees and those who rejected me in my past. But, Cody doesn't let the physical pains of today or the emotional pains of yesterday keep him from opening his heart to the joys of love and companionship of here and now. Neither should I.
A wise person once wrote, “Lord, help me to be the person my dog thinks I am.” That is my prayer as well, thanks to a russet-colored cocker spaniel with sad, longing eyes. The discarded trash of that breeder has become my pot of gold... er of tan, and he is quite a gentle, persevering treasure!
Gayle M. Irwin is a writer and public relations professional who volunteers with various animal rescue groups. She enjoys sharing her books and her passion for pets and the environment with others.