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Finding Resilience: A Dog Story

Here’s a story about a little dog named Pippa. Pippa is a Miniature Pinscher, a breed originally designed for rat catching. Although she is very small – 2.8 kilos or around 6 pounds – she has the temperament of a mighty hunter. Or maybe Queen of the Universe might be more appropriate. (And yes, this will eventually come around to writers and writing.)

As a small puppy, Pip was given to a gentleman named Leonard as an 80th birthday gift. The giver was his friend Reg, who knew Leonard was lonely living on his own. Leonard named his puppy Pipsqueak after a character from an English cartoon he’d enjoyed in his youth. For the first four years of her life, Pip was a beloved companion to Leonard, who hand-sewed a wardrobe of little coats for her, fed her copious amounts of treats, and took her by car to the riverside park every morning for a little stroll. I got to know these two during those outings, as that was my local park and I also had a Min Pin.

Pip was not a sociable creature, but because my dog was of her own kind she accepted us. While Leonard chatted to me and his friend Reg, who had his own car and tiny dog, Pip would guard her man and his vehicle, seeing off both humans and canines with her mighty yap.

Then one morning, down by the river, Leonard and Pip were not there. Reg and I wondered about his absence, then went our ways. The next morning, still no Leonard. Reg had a key to his friend’s house and said he would check on him.

It was several days before I saw Reg again. He had both his own dog and Pip with him, and I learned a sad story. Leonard had collapsed on the floor of his home after a heart attack. For more than 24 hours he’d lain there semi-conscious, while Pip kept watch over him. After Reg found him Leonard was rushed to hospital, but he died a few days later. And while Reg took Pip home with him, he could not keep her as he was already breaking a ‘no dogs’ rule at his accommodation by keeping one. Two would be impossible.

Nobody in Leonard’s family was prepared to take Pip. Of course, I said she could come to me. I lived close to the familiar meeting place, I had a little dog she liked, and it seemed a kinder prospect than surrendering her to a rescue for rehoming. So Pip came to live with us, bringing her collection of cute coats and her imperious temperament. Her life had been turned upside down.

Fast forward eleven years, and Pippa (this became her official name when I adopted her) is an old lady of fifteen. She’s been with me nearly three times as long as she was with Leonard, but I have absolutely no doubt that in the afterlife she will leap straight into his arms with never a backward glance. She had to adapt to many changes when she came to my household. Treats on demand were no longer a thing. Guarding the car did not count as exercise. And she had to live with a changing crew of adoptive and foster siblings over the years, because I provide a home for old and frail rescue dogs. Pip has always been the smallest and always the boss. I’m not sure she ever really learned acceptance, but she coped. Among her health challenges, as she grew older, was spinal surgery at the age of 10. She bounced back in record time, though she didn’t think much of the mandatory six weeks of crate confinement.

What lessons are to be learned from this story? Older people should not take on puppies? And what has all this to do with writing?

In my posts this year I’ve often spoken of resilience, as we all try to get on with our writing in times of turmoil and uncertainty. I consider Pip’s example. As you can probably see from the picture, she is quite frail these days, but still retains the spark of that feisty, loyal little dog of old. She has seen massive change in her life. She kept vigil by what was, in effect, her beloved person’s death bed. She lost him. She lost the home in which she’d been raised with every comfort she desired. She found herself in a very different environment, one in which the familiar patterns of behaviour were gone. She survived. She outlived eight adoptive siblings and several foster siblings. Now she is sometimes wobbly and confused. She sometimes needs syringe feeding. I watch her every day to assess her quality of life. When she annoys me (there’s nothing like being deep in the writing zone and having a small dog suddenly yelp from behind your chair) I remember her story and do my best to be kind. I know she won’t be with us for much longer.

This is a little story about a little life. It’s also a powerful example of courage, resilience, and adaptation in the face of overwhelming change. Sure, humans are more complex in their thinking than dogs, but we have much to learn from our canine friends. For many of us, 2020 is a year of immense challenge. It’s all too easy to feel overwhelmed, powerless, adrift. I’ve seen a troubling number of writer friends affected by mental illness this year, and for some of them the creative well has run dry. I urge you to look beyond the turmoil and see the small, good stories. A simple act of kindness. A note of beauty in the natural world. A story of courage or love. I wish you the ability to find your inner strength. I wish you resilience.

As for older people and puppies, who would have denied Leonard and his Pipsqueak those four precious years of companionship? The older person just needs a succession plan – someone committed to taking on the dog should it become necessary.

How are you all doing? Managing to keep your creative work flowing? Do your animals help or hinder you – maybe some of both? What is your key to finding resilience?

Postscript: this post was written for July 8 2020, but a technical glitch meant it didn’t go up on the intended date. Pippa passed away quickly and peacefully on July 10. Run free, small one.


About Juliet Marillier [1]

Juliet Marillier [2] has written twenty-four novels for adults and young adults as well as a collection of short fiction. Her works of historical fantasy have been published around the world and have won numerous awards. Juliet is currently working on a historical fantasy trilogy, Warrior Bards, of which the third book, A Song of Flight, will be published in August/September 2021. Her collection of reimagined fairy tales, Mother Thorn, will have a trade release in April 2021. Mother Thorn is illustrated by Kathleen Jennings and published by Serenity Press. When not writing, Juliet looks after Reggie, her elderly rescue dog.