I never understood dog people.
Yet here I am, suddenly a proud, crazy dog lady, writing an article about 14 lessons a 90-lb mastiff taught me about life.
I found Delilah during the 2019 holiday season. I was looking for a big, lazy lapdog to be my companion. I still recall our first night at home, staring at her, unsure about what I’d done, why I’d done it, or how I was going to do it all by myself.
When a close friend of mine first met Delilah, he told me she would teach me many things. In mid-freak-out about sharing my coveted space with another being, I was like, “yeah, okay whatever.” Two years later, during her doggy vigil, I’m on the floor with her, looking through pictures and smiling at the memory of ocean waves bubbling over her toes for the first time.
It’s my grief collage, to fill my heart with glowing memories and process the golden years we lived together. Seeing these memories, I think of all this brown cinnamon bear taught me about life, love, and the pursuit of happiness. Delilah would look at me like an idiot for writing such a cliché. She always eye-rolled my cheeseball ways.
We knew Delilah was my soul mate the moment we met at the rescue, based solely on the amount of cookies she snuck during that first visit. Delilah would take treats of all kinds, from anyone. She knew happiness isn’t counted in calories and never compared her body to another beast.
Okay…I completely made that up. But Delilah did eat a lot of treats, cookies, and peanut-butter concoctions—there was always room for a little extra pizazz!
When Delilah was acclimatizing to her new home, my sliding glass door was like a new beast she hadn’t quite figured out. She walked into it nose-first several times. Bump! Wet-nose marks and confused-doggie looks abounded. I can still remember her, “Did anyone see that?” expression.
Delilah had very few teeth and a long pink doggie tongue—her signature look included her derpy appendage sticking halfway out of her large doggie mouth.
Even into her older years, especially around mealtime, the very thought of food would give Delilah an energy surge, resulting in her adorable scampers, pouncing, and play. Her final years remained filled with feelings of silliness and genuine laughs. She was always bringing joy. She didn’t take herself too seriously. Why do we?
Take Your Time with People.
When Delilah was with you, she was with you. She could lock eyes and see into souls. It’s one of the things that made her so many two-legged friends. She didn’t get distracted by other dogs or people—she was in the moment with you and only you. She had the time and she made time. She treated everyone with a real one-on-one attention. She made people feel seen.
When we walked into people on the sidewalk, she would gently stop and wait for them to say hello. And they would. Take time with your people. Show them they matter with the simple gift of time, attention, focus.
Being responsible for the care of another living thing is humbling. We make mistakes. But Delilah never gave me the silent treatment. She didn’t remind me over and over again about the time I forgot to feed her or came home late. She accepted my human flaws and we moved on. Never making fun of my emotional tantrums or gossiping about my failures, she simply showed up, a consistent and loving companion.
When you realize you can be forgiven, you learn to forgive. The times she snuck poops in her mouth to store them in my couch. The times she ran past makeshift obstacles to jump onto my pristine couch or freshly-cleaned carpets. Delilah showed me the type of forgiveness that moves on from frustration and loss of control. She taught me to love our doggos and people just for being alive and being who they are. We clean the mess, feel the feelings, embrace the antics and chaos, and move on.
Don’t Try So Hard.
One Netflix night, Delilah was snoozing deeply on the couch. Her long, wood-chopping snores are unmistakable. Then, while trying to comfort herself, in one large roll, she rotated off the couch and onto the floor, where her plush bed was conveniently located to welcome her fall.
Now awake, she simply looked up at me like, “Hey, I’m on the floor now,” and sprawled into her new location without lifting so much as a doggie fingernail. No getting bothered or frazzled. Why move? She was surrounded by the comfort of her other bed and blankets. It’s like she said, “Just roll with it, babe.”
One of Delilah’s favorite things to do was sniff. It sounds obvious—but Delilah enjoyed sniffing as if it were the main event. Every leaf. Every flower. Shoot, every petal of every flower. She wouldn’t miss one patch of ground…she sniffed it all. It was one of her favorite activities and we would let her sniff as long as she wanted to. It was her time to explore. Her time to get curious. Her time to look for treasures and read the doggie news.
Most days, we took one of three routes. She had favorite spots, but in some ways, it was like every time was the first time. Looking for new smells, approaching the world with new eyes!
Of course, it wasn’t as inspirational when she was searching for crumbs or trash to gobble—she was still a clown!
Delilah’s love of sniff meant our walks were very slow. She was an expert in savoring. Her favorite pace? A snail’s pace, uphill through honey. She kept my patience in check and introduced me to what we called, “mindful strolling.”
Comfort & Ease.
Her golden years were filled with comfy naps, belly rubs, and treats. She was never in a rush. She couldn’t be bothered.
On her first night home, her new bed hadn’t yet arrived, but I put down a bunched and poofed up comforter for her temporary slumber. As soon as I laid it out, she knew it was hers and walked straight to it. Later, when her actual bed arrived, it came out of the box and expanded like a roasty puffy marshmallow—she immediately left her temporary cloud to claim the new one as hers.
This dog knew comfort and ease. And she chose it every time.
Claim What you Want.
The first time I opened the car door, Delilah jumped right into the front seat, claiming her spot. Her spot was supposed to be in the backseat. I had planned to move the seat up and guide her into the back, but she had other plans, sitting proudly in front.
It took much cookie-coaxing to get her 90-lb brown-sugar body safely into the back seat before we could make the two-hour drive home. The only reason it worked was because she decided she would rather have cookies in her belly than keep her front spot. Delilah wasn’t afraid to claim what she wanted, to take action and get it. She always found a way. And while she would bargain, she stuck to what she wanted.
Make Room for Yourself.
Delilah was a big girl. Her cinnamon-bear body took up space and her presence filled the room. She made room for herself where it wasn’t obvious she would fit.
I often sat on the floor next to her to work while she slept on her fluff bed during the day—sometimes next to her and sometimes across the room. When she wanted affection, she would walk over and sit on my lap. Ninety pounds of mastiff mix. Bum. Down. On. My. Lap.
Her shoulders and blocky head would obscure my computer screen until she would move from sitting to laying across my lap to attune my attention to potential belly rubs. Meanwhile, I’m trying to type on my laptop or answer conference calls. My coworkers loved seeing her drop in of course!
Clowning around, making space for herself, saying, “there’s room for you in this world, don’t be afraid to make it.”
Meet Your Neighbors.
Delilah was a perfect ice-breaker. She was a little timid and her presence was gentle and calm, but she was also a social gal. She loved to walk up to strangers, sniff hello, stare into their eyes, and show them the meaning of love.
She was notorious for walking in the middle of sidewalks and paths, blocking people so they’d have to stop and say hello. She perfected the elevator hello—the most awkward social space for most of us humans, she would gently walk up to people and stare until they said hello. She made so many friends and melted so many hearts this way!
I lived in the same apartment for a year before she joined me and I knew one neighbor. Two years later, her social curiosity had introduced me to everyone on my floor, the floors above and below, and several people from around the property. Dog and non-dog people alike!
She made it easy to meet the neighbors and have something instantly in common—being obsessed with her!
Another Kind of Love.
Delilah taught me I could be trusted. From day one, I watched her become more and more comfortable at home and felt the trust grow between us. A few weeks into our new home and life together, she rolled over on her back and exposed her belly. I felt so excited because she had accepted and trusted me.
It goes without saying, dogs teach unconditional love and loyalty. They love us simply because we exist. Humans dream of loving unconditionally but in the real world, it can be so complex. Not for dogs. Their giving cups are never empty and their supply of unconditional love is always full.
There’s something about a dog’s love that shows us what love can feel like. Something that shows us what kind of love is possible. And something, that makes us believe we’re worth loving. Delilah taught me how to love something other than myself. To care for something other than and outside of myself. To think of something else before myself.
I was used to doing whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted to. But then, during our years together, her needs came before mine—whether it was leaving brunch early to take care of her fleas, walking her in the rain, comforting her in the middle of the night after a fire alarm, or carrying her home when her legs gave out. As her care-taking needs increased with her age, our bond grew much deeper.
I’d never known this kind of love.
Here for a Good Time.
When we brought Delilah home, we knew she’d entered her golden years and would only be with us from six months to two years. Not a long time, but we set out to make it a good time.
Beach trips. New parks. Sunbathing. Office visits. Neighborhood strolling. Fancy baths. Belly rubs. Road trips. Girls weekends. Sunset walks. Dance parties. When it got harder for her to walk, we brought the party to her. Friends and neighbors brought cookies and treats and, of course, belly rubs.
It’s so easy to take life for granted. We all do it. But we will all have a time stamp of our own expiration. With Delilah, we packed it all in—fun and life! Silliness, love, new experiences! Memories for her mortal fur-body to experience. And as her end-of-life drew closer, it hit me, we accomplished what we set out to do. Give her a good time.
Delilah is teaching me about partings.
For every meeting, there is a parting. Delilah taught me about life. Now, she will teach me of grief, of loss, and connection beyond this world.
I hope I will learn that nothing is ever really lost or gone. That the memories, love, and life shared keep us bonded and feeling close and special forever. I hope I learn that soul mates “stay in touch,” even when a physical body is laid to rest. I hope her presence stays close.
I hope I learn grief in a way that reminds me how special our life was and still makes me smile when I talk about her. No one will ever be like Delilah. And that’s actually a beautiful thing because it shows us the power and uniqueness of one connection.
I never understood dog people. But now, I’m joining the club. Delilah has shown me 14 secrets of the good life, and I realize all our furry friends have so much to teach us.
What have your furry friends taught you about life?
I asked some of our readers and here’s what they had to say below:
1. Life is too short to be perfect. Be funny and push the limits. ~ Kiara B.
2. Always be excited to see your people—dogs are so good at always being excited to see you, and that always makes me feel so loved. So I try to do that for my family. And take more walks. ~ Dawn C.
3. Dogs taught me how much I could feel, of every emotion and the highs and lows of human experience. ~ Manny F.
4. Perseverance: nothing can bring them down. Or stop them from getting what they want aka food. ~ Amy C.
5. When I had my tonsils removed he stayed at the foot of my bed for days. He knew I needed care and he was there for me. ~ Laura C.
6. Hank has taught me I’m truly lucky to be able to eat more than twice a day! ~ Sean H.
7. Attentiveness! Whether I have been gone for a week, or just a couple hours, they are the first to greet me at the door and are genuinely excited to see me and give me attention every single time! ~ Karen M.
8. Love can be as simple as brushing their fur, and you getting kisses, and loving eyes peering into you. Love is about just being there, for each other. ~ Jann D.
9. We have a tripod dog and it has never occurred to him that he’s missing a leg – it doesn’t stop him from living life or trying. And I tell myself if he can do it, so can I. ~ Sydney T.
10. I think it’s cliché but she really taught me unconditional love and that dogs have better EQ than most humans. ~ Song Y.
Before Delilah and I found each other, she was saved by The Linda Blair Worldheart Foundation. To support their work and honor the memory of all our amazing furry family members, consider a donation here.