Life Lessons from a Labrador Retriever

There she goes.


She ran out the back door the moment I opened it and plotted her course straight towards the huge tree in the corner. The squirrels are chattering at her from high above, the animal version of a snarky retort.

I whistle in an attempt to bring her back from her wild dog fantasy, but it’s no use. Once she’s focused on a squirrel she won’t give up until it hops onto the fence and heads for the neighbor’s yard.

One small victory in the effervescent life of a Labrador retriever.

I give up and watch her run gracefully up and down the fence line as the squirrel plays the daily game of catch-me-if-you-can. Deep in her gene pool lies the stuff of great hunting dogs, according to the breeder. When she runs and leaps around the yard you can see tiny glimpses of the dog she was born to be.

But fate placed her here, in this suburban home with 2.0 kids and not a hunter to be found. Her keen retrieving instincts are directed towards the spit-stained stuffed animals that inhabit her toy basket. She sleeps on my daughter’s bed and spends countless hours curled up under my desk.

Not quite a dog’s life — more like the life of a princess, my husband claims.

When she was younger, she was injured while running up and down the fence chasing a nighttime critter — either a possum or a raccoon. Her leg swelled up and it was difficult for her to move around. After vet visits, ultrasound treatments, medications and as much “rest” as one can force on a lab she was healed and life moved on. She continued to chase the squirrels and play seemingly endless rounds of fetch with a tennis ball.

But then when she was 3 years old it happened again. She was sitting in front of me as I sat on the steps tying my shoelaces. I motioned for her to back up and she did. The cry of pain was horrible and her leg was sticking straight out to the side, in a direction back legs weren’t built to go.

And it was the other leg.

So after a trip to the emergency vet, CT scans and consultations with the surgeon it was determined that Holli has an uncommon, chronic problem with both Achilles tendons in her back legs. Because the surgery and recovery is very difficult, we decided to wait it out. We carried her home, nursed her back to health and decided to try and limit her running and activity in order to avoid surgery for as long as possible. No more endless rounds of fetch in the backyard or running around with the big dogs at the dog park. She was destined to be the canine model for a couch potato.

And yet, she runs.

She runs because she doesn’t know that she can’t. The consequences of running the fence line in hot pursuit of a squirrel mean nothing to her. She lets her inner hunting dog loose and runs with grace and agility.

I swear she’s even smiling.

She runs because she can, because she doesn’t understand my long-winded explanations about why I called her back into the house. Because to her, running feels like something she is compelled to do, something she can’t stop doing. And she isn’t afraid of the consequences.

She runs.

Why don’t we?

We all have something we wish we could do, or maybe even feel that we were born to do. And yet, how often do we throw up our arms and say, “WTH? I’m going to do it!”

Has someone told you that you can’t? Is your inner critic whispering “You’ll fail” in your ear, ever so quietly while you daydream?

This is how I feel about writing, most days.

That I am driven to do it and really need to get those words out, but that time and work and my inner critic all get in the way.

That I need to write like nobody is reading.

That I need to take one more run at that squirrel on the fence.

And not worry about the chatter.


  1. I adore this, Sherri. Like really, really love it.
    My dog gets so excited every time we open the back gate. It’s not like there is anything new there, but she bursts through like there might be. Another lesson from our four-legged friends, I suppose, to greet each day like there might be something exciting contained within it.

    • I love that they are so focused and SO happy about the same old thing. There are times when I feel annoyed that she needs to be called back in from yet another unsuccessful run at the squirrels but lately I am just awed by her excitement. Thank you…xoxo

  2. This is really, really lovely.

    I, too, have a slightly insane squirrel chasing dog. They tease her. They goad her. She chases them. No chase is less heartfelt than the last, but sometimes she sits, patiently, and waits.

    And every now and again she gets one. To have that kind of persistence, and joy in that one thing she does? *sigh*

    • Mine finally caught one a few weeks back. I screamed at her, which made her even more excited, and it got away but it was injured at least a little. My hope is that it went off and recovered. But yes, to have that type of determination and joy over ONE THING. We need that.

  3. I am printing this out and hanging it on my wall. My mojo seemed to have disappeared this last year. Maybe chasing a squirrel of it’s own. My own little Roxie chases squirrels and even hops and leaps at the tree as though she is sure for a moment that she can climb. I will reread this piece and pay closer attention to the wisdom of dogs 🙂

    • Dee, you have been through so much this year! Honestly, I can’t blame you for losing your mojo a bit. Hoping for continued recovery and a fresh start this November. xo

  4. So lovely.

    As always.

    Your writing is always so lovely. Thank you for this, I really needed to read something inspiring today. I don’t write nearly as often as I’d like because of those God damn voices in my head. And as for our dog… he’s nuts about a new puppy (?) that just moved into the neighborhood and barks (welcomes?) him every. single. time. he’s out in the back yard. Sigh!

    • Yes, the voices… even when I write something I am really proud of, I worry that the next piece I write won’t speak to me as much. Or speak to anyone at all. That isn’t a way to write! And yay for Charlie Pasta making “new” friends. The barking drives me crazy. xo

  5. Love this, Sherri. It speaks so much to what I’ve been thinking of the last few days.. the barriers we humans have to doing the writing or whatever it is we want and love to do but worry we *can’t.* We have important things to learn from animals (I have two cats and have also had a dog, horses and birds), who live with none of that self-consciousness, self-questioning, self-doubt. I was happy to run across this piece at a time when I needed to hear this. I registered for the Erma workshop this past year but in the end couldn’t go 🙁 . But I have remained in the FB group and can feel the energy and positive vibes from it. Determined to get there in 2016!

  6. Oh how wonderful we humans would feel if we could just let ourselves go for it like dogs do. I got a little misty eyed reading about your dogs pain, but if she can smile through it, surely we can get up and give it (whatever our it is) a go! Great read Sherri.

  7. Melissa Smith says:

    I love what you did there! Everyone can relate to the life of a dog in one way or another. If they can be so carefree, why can’t we?!

  8. we have a cat, but not so much fun to play outside! maybe we need a dog.

  9. How have I not read this yet?
    Oh my, sweet Holli.

    I know you.
    And your type.

    You don’t think, you just do. You don’t worry, you just live.

    You believe it will all work out and it does! Because even when you’re hurting, someone who loves you picks up the pieces and carries them until you can begin to run again.

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