Skip to content

The Worst Birthday

photo of a black tri Australian Shepard and a man on a trail with fall colors surrounding them
Life Lessons From the Best Dog

My 39th birthday involved sitting at the emergency vet hospital staring at a chest x-ray of my dog, Calley.  Pneumonia and a suspicious 5cm mass in her chest.  Actually, within 24 hours we learned there were several suspicious masses and she should be transferred from the emergency department to oncology.  Another 24 hours later, and we learned that our sweet 4-year-old girl very likely has lymphoma.  I sat there in a state of disbelief.  Why would she be taken from us at such a young age?  How can we make her feel better?  What magic treatments can we find?  Disbelief or not, the fact of the matter was the diagnosis is terminal.  Stats are rattled off and you wonder where she’ll fall in terms of life left.  Little did we know we only had two more weeks left with her.  She gave her all in those two weeks putting up with enough medications to open her own pharmacy, giving us little glimmers of her old spark, and so so much love.

Within a month our HVAC unit packed up and needed replacing, Calley was hospitalized, our water heater started leaking and needed replacing, and our other dog caught a respiratory infection.  If that isn’t a flipping kick in the pants to finish out my 30’s, I’m not sure what is.  Besides being a bit scared to get out bed the last few days, there have been a lot of prayers and contemplation.  Why does it hurt so bad?  It literally feels like someone punched me in the stomach.  How do we honor Calley’s life?  What did she teach us?  When will our bad luck turn?

We lost her far too early, and another 10 years wouldn’t have been enough time with her.  But she taught us so much in such a short amount of time.  I want to share her lessons with you as well.


  1. Take care of your pack.

She loved her pack fiercely, and her #1 priority was that the pack was together and safe.  When we went camping, she would be absolutely beside herself if one of us went to bathroom so we had to start going as a pack.  She reminded us that we didn’t have to do anything special.  A braai at home as a family was like gold to her.  The thing about Calley’s pack though was that it was always expanding.  My sisters, brother-in-law, parents, niece – she was so happy when they temporarily joined the pack.  Heck, even the window cleaners and A/C repairmen were welcomed with sniffs and an offer to help with the job.  Give and receive love.  It is priority #1.  Message received my Calley.


  1. Get Outdoors.

Any day was made better with time in the great outdoors.  Swimming, hiking, paddling, sunbathing in the garden, she did it all.  She reminded me not to take training too seriously.  The fun part was moving our bodies outdoors, exploring, and taking time to say hello to others.  Get outside every day. It will make you feel better.


  1. Put everything you have into your job.

Calley loved working.  She took her jobs seriously and was the perfect boss of the house.  She taught her little brother, Boomer, all the rules of the house and kept the cat in line as well.  She told me when packages had been delivered, helped open them, and wanted to help her Dad with all the house projects.  She was the perfect supervisor.  All you had to do was give her a look, and she knew what you wanted her to do.  She taught me that there’s no point in avoiding work.  Embrace it, make the best of it, and enjoy the satisfaction of a job well done.


  1. Don’t forget to play.

Calley always made time for play.  Her local trail loop wasn’t just a hike.  She loved jumping over logs with her beautiful finesse.  Downhill sections meant run and jump over something at the bottom, and there was always time for a dip in the creek to cool off.  She made me notice plants and animals I would never have noticed otherwise.  Find ways to make things fun.  Play will make you happy every day.


I’ll spend the rest of my days missing her and waiting to be reunited.  Grief is a heavy hitter when we lose loved ones.  All I can do is live like Calley would want me to and honor the memories we have with her.


“Obviously no one can hide from the eventual death of the body or from the possibility that he or she will have to face a serious challenge.  But if, like the fish, we dive deeper into our connection with the Divine, we will find an inner reality so satisfying and supportive that we will be able to greet all life events, including the inevitable end of the body, peacefully and with realization that we are eternal, undying souls.  This is the place beyond fear.”

– Radhanath Swami

2 thoughts on “The Worst Birthday”

  1. Despite the terrible pain, Calley clearly left you some precious gifts to take into your next decade. My hound would add: “Be eternally hopeful”. For another cuddle, another stick, another treat, another round in the neighbourhood, a familiar call, all those simple moments that add a smile to every day. Thank you for sharing this.

Leave a Reply

    Your Cart
    Your cart is empty