All Dogs Go To Heaven

Since I’ve started this blog, I’ve always tried to keep my personal life out it. My mission for writing this blog is to provide a professional development resource for leaders and leadership development practitioners, not to share the mundane details of my life.

As most bloggers soon discover, after a while, the personal starts to creep into the professional. You can’t help it. You begin to get more opinionated, you begin to develop relationships with your readers and fellow bloggers, and the “real you” begins to come out from behind the curtain.

For those of you that have been reading this blog for a while, you know that Annie is kind of the official mascot for Great Leadership. She’s a part of my blog, LinkedIn, & HR Bloggers profiles, and I’ve often used pictures of her or other dogs in my posts. She’s been one of the most popular parts of this blog – one of my very first reader comments was “My, you have a lovely dog”. (That was for a post that took me two hours to write.)

So with that, I’ve decided to write a long overdue tribute to Annie.

This past May, right before the Memorial Day weekend, we had to put Annie down. It was an agonizing decision, one that my family had been grappling with for over a year. Annie was well into her 15th year, past the average life expectancy for a lab. She had arthritis in her hips, had trouble standing and walking, and was having accidents on the rug more and more frequently.

They say you always wonder how you’ll know when the time is right. You can question yourself – did we do it too soon or too late? We had no regrets with Annie – it was time. If she could talk, I think she would have told us herself. You can see it in the eyes.

We had done everything we could to extend her life comfortably, having built a ramp for her to get out, giving her a daily dose of aspirin, changing her food, and making sure we were around to take her out more frequently. And with no resentment – after all, she had given us so much over the years. When the kids got older and no longer ran to greet me at the door, she still pulled herself off the floor and staggered over to greet me. Even in the final days, when she was just too tired to get up, I still got a tail wag and “the look”.

I think I knew it was time when I was in my favorite chair and opened a bag of chips – and Annie just lifted her head and put it back down. She always was at my side when the snacks appeared. When she was younger, she could snatch a chip out of the air with amazing speed and precision. I then realized that she could no longer do the things that used to give her pleasure in life. Life was getting too hard on her – and she knew she was letting us down when she couldn’t make it outside.

So my wife and I took her to the vet, and held her, and said goodbye. They say all dogs go to heaven – I know Annie did, and she’s up there running full speed, snatching treats out of the sir, causing trouble, and happy again.

So, in the spirit of Great Leadership, here are the 9 things I learned about leadership from Annie:

1. How to be a good listener. Annie was the family therapist – there was no better example of empathetic, non-judgmental, selfless listening. I’m sure she took a lot of family secrets with her.

2. When you see something that turns you on, go for it and don’t let go. Our good friends would come over every year for a holiday get-together, and Annie had a mad crush on my friend’s leg. No matter how hard he shook, Annie would hang on.

3. How to resolve conflict. Whenever there was a family argument, Annie would slinker over insert herself in the middle of things, with her ears down and tail between her leg. Soon the anger would dissolve into giggles.

4. Have a s sense of humor, don’t take yourself too seriously. It’s hard to stay serious – or fight- when your dog is licking herself.

5. Protect your team from danger. Annie didn’t have a mean bone in her body – she was the gentlest dog I’ve ever seen. But when the doorbell rang – or a squirrel wandered into the back yard – she could work herself up into a barking frenzy that would scare…. Well, a squirrel. Whenever a stranger came in, all they had to do was put their hand out and she would run over and sit next to them. Go ahead, take the silverware, just pet me.

6. OK, for those of you with a weak stomach – skip this one – I’m warning you, it’s gross! Always clean up your own mess. You dog owners will understand. Believe me, we tried everything! In the end, we gave up and just resigned ourselves to following her around with a shovel.

7. Give back more than you take. Yes, Annie was a lot of work, but she gave back 10X in return in devotion, protection, fun, comfort, and love.

8. It’s what’s inside that matters. Annie didn’t care about what you look like or how much money you had. As long as your butt smelled OK.

9. Live for the moment. Life is too short, especially in dog years. We often get caught up in the “I will be happy when…” syndrome. You know the symptoms. You start thinking: I will be happy when I get that…lake house…that promotion…that status…that money. The only way to cure the disease is to find happiness and meaning now. Go outside and play – chase a ball – be silly – show your affection – enjoy your food – and look forward to seeing and spending time with your family and loved ones like there’s no tomorrow.

I won’t be changing my profile picture – for a while anyway. It was such a challenge getting her to pose that day – if you look closely; I’ve practically got her in a headlock. She never did pose well for pictures. Neither do I.

If you’ve gotten this far, thanks for reading, and sharing a few memories of Annie with me.