Every one of us has challenges in life we must face. Sometimes they can become overwhelming and take away our energy, our creativity, and if we aren’t careful, even our joy.
A few years ago I inadvertently let myself get into this state. I have been a full-time caregiver for the last twenty years, but three years ago things got a little more challenging. I was not only taking care of an older, disabled husband but also a very old, wonderful dog, neither of whom were interested in getting out and doing fun stuff with me. I willingly perform the role of caregiver, but after twenty years without a break, that level of responsibility can take a toll on a person. I was burned out. I was exhausted, too emotionally drained to do much of anything other than what was necessary to survive from day to day, and I couldn’t even wish for the situation to end because it could only end when one or both of my loved ones died.
Now some of you might think this situation sounds hopeless, and I’ll admit there were times when I got close to feeling hopeless, but I am a very spiritual person, so instead of giving up, I started praying. You see, I truly believe that all things are possible with God’s help, so I knew it was achievable for me to be happy, have some fun in my life, and still be a full-time caregiver.
The more I prayed, the more I became convinced I needed another dog. My family thought I was crazy—they said I already had more to take care of than I could manage, why would I want more? But, there was a certainty in me that said a puppy was the right answer.
There was also a certainty that said it had to be a special dog. A dog free from genetic time bombs which might eventually end up in high vet bills like my sweet old dog, Skye. A dog who was intelligent and liked to play and was calm and good with people and other dogs. A dog who would be gentle with my blind husband, and would lay quietly and let me write when I felt creative, yet I also wanted him to help me remember to get enough exercise and stop for play breaks on a regular basis. That’s a lot to ask of a dog, so I kept praying.
I know what some of you are thinking right now. You think that I should have just gone to my local animal shelter and adopted a dog instead. I had done that with Skye. She was delightful, but she cost me a tremendous amount of money each month due to health problems. My vet recommended that instead of adopting a dog with an unknown ancestry, I find a breeder who did health checks on the parent dogs.
I found that breeder, and she let me visit her home so I could meet her dogs. They were healthy, socialized, and good with people. She didn’t have any puppies available at that time, but she was expecting a litter in a few months. I put my name on her waiting list.
Perhaps you’re wondering why I was willing to wait when I was expecting the dog to make such a difference in my life. Why not keep hunting so I could find a puppy already available? All I can tell you is that it felt like the right thing to do. Yes, I was a little worried. The waiting list was long, and it was possible there might not be enough puppies in the litter for me to get one. But, after meeting her dogs, I was excited about the possibility of getting one of their puppies. I waited.
I’ve had Doberman for almost forty years. They are special dogs, bred to love and watch out for their people. I’d gotten mostly females before, simply because they tend to live longer, but this time I had a feeling that I needed to get a male. When the breeder called me, she said the puppies had been born, but the litter was small--two females and three males. She apologized because there were no female puppies available. I got first choice between the three male puppies.
The breeder regularly sent me photographs of the males to help me decide which one I wanted. I eagerly checked my email every day in hopes of seeing a new picture. The male puppies each wore a colored ribbon to help me tell them apart; a red ribbon, a yellow ribbon, and a white ribbon. For some reason, I was drawn to the puppy with the red ribbon, but I wasn’t sure, so I arranged to visit in person when they were six weeks old. That was the day I met Toby for the first time, and my life changed for the better.
Of course, all puppies are cute when they’re just a picture on the computer, but in person, they may be different. The red ribbon puppy was too shy; the yellow ribbon puppy was hyper; but, the white ribbon puppy, my Toby, was perfect. Toby came to greet me and licked my hand as soon as I knelt by his whelping box. When I picked him up, he calmly laid in my arms and stared me right in the eye. When I moved him close enough to my face, he gave me puppy sugars, but most importantly, he made me laugh.
Sure, it was more work raising a baby in addition to taking care of my two old loves, but it was well worth it. Toby has brightened all our lives. Sweet Skye loved to play with him, and she was more active in the last two years of her life because of him. My husband is blind, has short-term memory loss, and is beginning to show the first signs of dementia. He spends most of his time listening to TV shows. Toby patiently sits by his chair and listens as my husband pets him and tells him all about politics or the people whose minds go blank so they can’t think of simple answers on Family Feud.
Toby is almost three years old now, and he has taught me a great deal. All of us have responsibilities and goals in our life which are important to us, and it is easy to get so involved in them that we forget to make time to have fun. But being happy and spending time laughing is important to our mental well-being. Devoting time to doing things that make us laugh, increases our energy and our imagination, whether we are authors, caregivers, disabled husbands or old dogs.
If we want to write, or paint, or be creative in any way, we must take good care of ourselves. We need to make sure there is enough fun and laughter in our lives to offset the weight of our responsibilities. I know it has worked for me. So, if you don’t have enough laughter in your life, perhaps it is time for you to ask yourself the big question; what makes you laugh?