What My Bad Dog Taught Me

Working in animal rescue of any sort will teach you plenty of valuable life lessons… chief among them being: don’t ever think you will cease to be surprised. This plays out in many different scenarios. You will always be shocked at the atrocities of man – I don’t care how many abuse victims you see each day, it will still hurt just as much each new time as the first. Think you’re getting a nice break from rescue for a day or two? Nope, surprise! Something needs you and that something is more important than your relaxation. And, we’ve all seen it – that dog that you thought was just any old dog, not the least bit special. Well, you were wrong again.

I’ve been staring at this computer screen for at least fifteen minutes, not the least bit sure how to start what I need to say. In truth, I’ve been mulling the words over in my head for months now, knowing full well that I have to write something. I have to, not just because the words need to be said, but because I need to face the truth that exists behind them. Grief is a monster of an emotion. It stays so long. Longer than joy, longer than surprise or fear. It would even seem that it remains longer than the feeling of love that it spawns from, but of course that is not true, because if the love wasn’t there then the grief would not be either. Grief is just so dark and looming, it shocks the senses and leaves you raw in a way that no other emotion ever could. The kicker, though, is that the existence of grief is only because of love, and so we can never even fully turn away from grief because to do so would be to push out the love we felt for what we’re grieving for.

Is there a solution, then? Can we beat the feeling of grief, or do we just have to let it run its course and hope it does not linger too long? I’m honestly not sure, but I know my personality is such that I cannot let something like it best me. Also, I cannot let something as dark, hollow, and consuming as grief mar the beauty of what I loved so much to start. I will never conquer grief, but I can even the playing field.

I’ve mentioned Kara in passing throughout this blog – in affectionate detail when introducing her and her sisters, as well as other mini-rants about dog rescue and the hurdles we face. Kara was a foster failure from Boykin Spaniel Rescue – she came to me in terrible shape, and she was only supposed to stay a maximum of 48 hours. Well, that was the first of many lessons that Kara taught me: don’t ever think you’re in control of a situation. Those 48 hours turned into two weeks so she could whelp with an experienced foster home, then eight weeks until the puppies could be weaned and adopted out, then two more months for heartworm treatment, until finally I faced the music that everyone else had already been hearing and admitted to myself that Kara was never leaving. I loved that little dog, and she loved me, and quite frankly I couldn’t think of any other adopter who could handle her.

All of our dogs teach us lessons, if we take the time to listen. Kara’s entire existence was about teaching these lessons, though. I could never list them all, but these are my favorites…

  1. Humor exists in everything

This was a forced lesson, for sure. While Kara did not exactly understand the humor she required of me, I definitely understood that if I didn’t start seeing the humor in her actions, I would lose my mind. Or jump off a bridge. Or both.

How many other dog owners can say they’ve had to “burp” their dogs? Kara was the type of dog who firmly believed in the mantra of giving everything 110% or nothing at all. She loved, more than anything else, to retrieve her bumpers from the water – somehow, though, she always managed to inhale so much air and water while doing so that she turned her compact little frame into a balloon on four legs. This would result in quite a bit of discomfort for her (not to mention danger, when her balloon would shift mid-swim and suddenly her butt was in the air like a damn duck), which in turn meant that someone had to hold her down and gently squeeze the air out of her body. Yes, it is exactly what you think – we held her down and squeezed her abdomen until she farted all her excess gas out. I can’t make this shit up.


Kara would insist on playing fetch in the car. She would pile so many pinecones in front of you to throw for her that you could start a pine plantation. The last day I ever took her to the office, she launched herself from my chair to my computer desk, knocking phone, laptop, keyboard, mouse, and coffee cup to the ground – while my boss was standing in front of me. Despite all the trouble that little brown dog caused, you still couldn’t look at her silly, excited face without laughing. Laughter, after all, is the best medicine they say.

  1. Don’t let mean folks get you down (but do get your revenge)

Kara had a really shitty life before she was picked up off the interstate in BFE South Carolina. It’s always hard to see dogs that have spent years being abused and neglected, but sometimes I think it’s even harder to see young dogs in such awful shape, because, shit, how do you let your dog get that sick, that fast? As mad as it made me, though, Kara never cared. She never held the transgressions of her original owner/breeder against anyone she met after.

Kara greeted everyone she met with a smile and a face-washing (or a full-on second-base makeout session if you let her). She loved all living things, two- and four-legged. The worst reaction you would ever get out of her was an absolutely pathetic look of sorrow when you told her no. Well, that, and her classic revenge technique: pee on it. Nope, Kara wouldn’t hold grudges or let frustrated humans or grumpy dogs get her down – but you better believe she would look you in the eye, twist one leg out, and piss all over wherever she was sitting when you told her to quit what she was doing. I guess we all have our tactics.

  1. Don’t be in a rush to grow up

When I got Kara, we guessed her age to be around a year and a half – still a puppy by Boykin standards, for sure. She was sick and skinny, and obviously pregnant. The last thing that little brown dog needed was to go through whelping and rearing a litter of puppies, but she was pretty far along so we decided to go through with it.

Kara was a terrible mother. I mean, she did her job, but she mothered her puppies like one would expect a fifteen-year-old highschooler to – she did the bare minimum, and loved her babies, but all she really wanted to do was go to the skate rink with her friends. She hated to be locked away in the spare room with her puppies, and more than once she jumped the baby gate and carried a puppy out to me in the den to play fetch (yes, with the puppy…) One day, she decided she didn’t think her whelping box was comfortable enough, so she carried every single one of her puppies to the den and snuggled up with them all on the couch. I will give her credit for at least opting to bring them along, while not exactly appropriate.


While Kara’s life was much shorter than it should have been, she never once stopped acting like a puppy. She was in no hurry to grow up, and instead she made every effort to do what she loved and enjoy her life to the fullest. As I find myself constantly caught up in the whirlwind of work, school, family, and planning, I often forget to enjoy the moments I have now, young and healthy.

  1. Never, ever stop

Much to my occasional dismay, Kara was the epitome of an energizer bunny – she just kept going, and going, and going… Combine sporting breed energy and spaniel OCD, and you have the perfect recipe for a four-legged perpetual motion machine. A sleeping Kara was a precious thing, a treasure that seemed so rare that you would make painstaking efforts to avoid disturbing.


While Kara would rest, she never, ever stopped. She would never turn down a ball toss, or shy away from a run or car ride. It didn’t matter how cold the water was, or how dark the forest, she always plunged right in. And, in the very end, it didn’t matter that she was dying – she still refused to stop. Even the vet shook his head and said he never would have thought such an energetic, happy dog was so sick. Maybe if she had slowed down, we would have realized and caught it earlier. But that was not Kara, and she stayed true to herself until her last moments.

It has been almost a year since Kara died, and it’s still as painful now as it was then. Losing her drained me of so much energy that it really did take a year to put my heart into words enough to come to terms with what happened. These words won’t bring her back or make the grief go away, but she deserved to be remembered for the wonderful lessons she imparted. She was the “bad” dog, the one that was never supposed to stay, and the one I knew would live forever simply because of how difficult she made my life at times. I know I’ll have another “bad” dog one day, and I know Kara’s lessons will carry through to then, and that new “bad” dog will teach me lessons of its own. Until then – well, it’s true that one man’s trash can certainly be another’s treasure, and Kara will forever be a sparkle in my memories.