My Life in Dog Years

By Betsy Rectenwald, photo credit, Henry Rectenwald, featuring Erin, Todd and Addie

Recently I lost two of my very best friends. Dearest Penny dog lost her life to a raging blood infection, and my beloved Granddog, Addie, died of cancer. The grief has been incredible. My heart is broken.

So, given this sorrow and heartbreak, why did I adopt a massive Bernese Mountain dog last week?  Why should I once more set myself up for this kind of pain and sorrow? 

Well, the reason is this…

It is my belief that our close relationships with animals grounds us in time and space. Animals center us spiritually in a world that is uncertain and often chaotic. They bring meaning, consistency, and reassurance during our time on earth. Because of our close relationships with them, we live healthier and more memorable lives.

When I reflect upon my 65 years roaming this earth, from the turbulant 50’s to the recent Covid Pandemic, I have been calmed and supported by animals–dogs, cats, horses, birds, and ducks. Yes! Ducks! But, my dogs always have had a unique quality that comforts and centers me. Dogs are the creatures I get to spend most of my time with.  Because a dog has almost always been part of my life, I am able to vividly remember the events from my early childhood into adulthood.

I remember my life in Dog Years.

Most of the memories I treasure are because I was with my dog.  For example, we had a silver miniature poodle named Colette. I recall her lapping up her creamy coffee every morning, and I am transported back to my childhood home, sitting laughing with my mom. I remember playing hide and seek with my shepherd, Lobo. When I was a teenager, he kept my mind focused during my parent’s divorce. Lobo takes me to the memory of riding in pickup trucks and hiking in deserts with my brother. It is like I am transported back in time. Many memories that ground me and make me who I am are because I had a furry, constant companion…my dog.

Dogs keep us focused. Our relationships with them, albeit far too brief, keep us centered in this turbulent and confusing world. They can give us a purpose as we navigate the turmoil around us. Dogs bring us into nature, relationships, and help us have a better understanding of ourselves.  Dogs help us be less selfish. They remind us of the value of a pure and unwavering devotion and unquestionable love.  Frauline, Colette, Putsy and Mutsy, Freud, Lobo, Amber, Shadow, Sadie, Lola, Winston, Penny, Posey, and Addie… and now Shelby, help me remember significant people, events, and places in my life.  But most importantly, our animals nurture us–mind, body and spirit. It is my belief that this close relationship enables us to better take our place in our world.

Betsy Rectenwald is a retired teacher who resides in Taos, New Mexico and Sacramento, California. She is also Erin Grimm’s mother.

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