Life lessons from Harley

life lessons

Photo: Jessica Brown

Harley’s gone. His exuberant life cut short by cancer.

Harley was a Pointer, with cookies and cream fur and two beautiful chestnut spots that ran down his left side and completely covered his face.

He could have been a show dog, save for an unfortunate kink near the end of his tail that made it look like he had wandered a little too close to a closing kitchen door as a pup.

In addition to his intelligence, Harley’s defining trait was his energy. From dawn to dusk he was on the go, if not physically moving, then alert – ready to spring into action at the drop of a hat. Or a biscuit.

But if I had to sum up Harley’s life in a sentence, this would be it: Harley never stopped being a puppy.

I don’t know how old Harley was when he died, but he was well past puppydom.

He lived with our nephew, Andrew, and his partner, Jess. Several years ago Jess bought Harley as a Christmas present for Andrew. At the time Jess had a Bull Mastiff named Roxy. Evidently these dogs come in two sizes – huge and huger. Roxy was merely huge.

Andrew has had dogs his entire life. I sometimes think he would be happiest on some large spread out in the country with a pack of dogs running about barking and playing in the fields all day.

And that’s where Harley was happiest, too. I don’t think I’ve ever seen an animal run so gracefully. He went from zero to full speed in the blink of an eye.

Should an obstacle appear he’d either jump over it in an effortless leap, or he’d run around it at full speed. This didn’t involve the normal turning of the body in a short S-curve around a tree. Instead, Harley would be running at his usual 100 miles per hour, plant all four legs, bounce 90 degrees to his left, and continue running. Never loosing a bit of momentum.

He did all this with a mischievous grin. He knew that no one was smarter. No one could catch him. And he was going to enjoy every moment he had on this earth. To the fullest.

Like I said, Harley never stopped being a puppy.

Our Duke was a puppy once. He would taunt Roxy mercilessly. Running around her, nipping at her, and doing everything possible to coax her to play. Sometimes Roxy would oblige. But usually she’d just grunt and roll over.

Duke never did understand, until one day he stopped being a puppy. That’s about the time Harley showed up.

Whatever Duke had done to Roxy, Harley did to Duke. Except that Harley was an overachiever when it came to the “play with me” things that dogs do to one another. You knew Harley was visiting when there was a blur racing around Duke, sort of like the Tasmanian Devil.

At about that time Duke would saunter over to Roxy and lick her on the ear. As if to say, “Now I get it.” Payback’s a bitch.

Meanwhile, Harley was out the door. Off to his next adventure.

He had a particular affinity for digging. You may know that a dog’s sense of smell is about 100,000 times that of you and me. Harley’s must have been 200,000 times.

I never realized how much was buried in our yard. One day Harley dug a hole about two feet deep in order to retrieve a clear glass bottle filled with sand. Lord knows what had been in it. But Harley knew, and he had to get to it.

He also never found a tree that didn’t need a hole dug next to it. Some of these holes were small little things. Most were not.

It used to bother the hell out of me. Here I had just finished raking the yard of a winter’s worth of fallen debris, and no sooner was I done, standing back admiring the results of my two days of hard manual labor, when Harley would come along and start to dig.

Dirt and sand would fly everywhere. I’d yell at him to stop. And he’d pause, turning his head to look at me with his wide grin, tell me to relax, and keep right at it.

Then, out of sheer frustration, I’d go inside the house and yell at Andrew. Like he had anything to do with it. Guilt by association, I suppose.

One day I just stopped fussing and fuming. It dawned on me that there are some things you simply can’t control. For Harley, digging was life. It represented adventure, discovery, and reward at the end of his efforts. Asking him to stop digging would be like asking him to stop running. He just wasn’t capable of it.

So I decided to look on the bright side. It’s not every yard that is an homage to Swiss cheese, with holes everywhere. Besides, after we partially refilled them they looked like nothing more than divots the next spring. No worries.

Harley wasn’t a bundle of pure energy every minute of the day. There were times when he would suddenly stop his running, jumping, digging, and playing, come inside and fall in a heap on the couch.

Whenever that happened all the other dogs in the house – if we were lucky and had a full compliment there would be six – would simultaneously look to the sky, bring their two front paws together, and say a silent prayer of thanks that the sleep god had sprinkled some magic dust on Harley. Now they all could just chill together.

We’d find a sea of sleeping dogs sprawled across the living room with eyes closed, legs moving awkwardly, and muffled barks as they gleefully chased squirrels in their dreams. Together. Happy. Sleeping. Dog nirvana.

Then Harley would jump up just as suddenly as he had laid down, and run out the door.

Until one day he didn’t.

Andrew and Jess are left with a deep hole in their hearts, dug by Harley over the years, but filled with gratitude that he was a part of their lives. We all are.

And if you stop for a moment in silent reflection, you can discover some important life lessons that Harley taught us.

Like, don’t deny what comes instinctively. We are all unique and there is no room for “should” in our lives.

While it would behoove us all to play nice, if digging is your thing, then dig. There are no prescribed paths that we should take. Nothing that says this job or that career is the best direction you should go in. Or this man or this woman is the right person for you. All that matters is you. And what feels best to you.

Do what comes naturally. And not necessarily what others think is right or proper.

Second, don’t waste a moment.

Life is short. Sometimes too short. If you’re lucky you will live a long life filled to the brim with love and meaning and fun. And if you’re unlucky, you can still live a life filled to the brim. Your cup will runneth over, leaving an abundance of sweet memories for those you leave behind.

Third, it’s okay to rest, even if you are the fastest dude in the dog pack.

Filling your life to the brim includes stopping and spending some down time with your friends and family. Ideally, there should be lots of that time. All running and digging and no rest is not the doggy way.

But the most important of Harley’s life lessons – never, ever stop being a puppy!


One Comment on “Life lessons from Harley

  1. Eyes leaking while reading this beautiful story. RIP Harley.
    and yes, so many forget how to be a puppy again…

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