Losing pups. It’s heartbreaking, for so many reasons.
Have you ever had a dream that was crushed, maybe even more than once? How do you get back up and press on, when painful memories linger and the heart is heavy?
As responsible dog owners, breeders, and exhibitors, I’m sure we’ve dreamed of a healthy litter of promising pups, amazing adoptive families to come along, a new champion title, a successful year for our clubs, the well-being and longevity of our beloved canine companions, and on and on. But what happens when expectations are not met and dreams are crushed? Pain is a real emotion, and the wounds life deals are often long to heal. This message is not about the past however, it’s about the future. A bright future! So let’s turn the page on the past, and look forward with hope!
In this article I will define hope, and share 4 powerful steps to help you overcome heartache, and press on!
What exactly is hope?
Hope is absolutely essential to overcome heartache. We want it, we need it, but we have a hard time defining it. That said, if you’ve been blessed with a litter of pups, I’m sure you’ve felt hope’s presence while peering into a litter box of warm, nursing, thriving pups all nestled together. I’m also sure you felt its absence when those same pups fade before your eyes despite all your efforts to save them.
Whatever “hope” is, it must be something very important for so many brilliants minds— authors, poets, psychologists and theologians— to study and analyze the topic. What Emily Dickinson describes in her famous poem as the thing with feathers that perches in the soul, others describe as a light at the end of a tunnel, an anchor for the soul, and a dove. The swallow has long been a symbol of hope in literature such as Aesop’s Fables, largely because it is the first bird to appear at the end of winter and the beginning of spring. Hope is also an important concept in most major world religions and is one of the three theological virtues of Christianity, alongside faith and love. Webster’s Online Dictionary defines hope as: “A desire of some good, accompanied with an expectation of obtaining it, or a belief that it is obtainable . . .” The opposites of hope are dejection, hopelessness, and despair. No one wants to live in despair, so the obvious quest for hope looms large on our minds, as we look for ways to overcome heartache.
How then do we capture this thing with feathers that perches in the soul, or sense the stabilizing force of an anchor during the storms of life?
After my own experience with losing precious pups, I’m firmly convinced that hope reveals itself as we CHOOSE TO TAKE STEPS in the direction of our goals. Even if they are tiny baby steps, hope starts to bloom, the weight in our heart begins to lift, and we dare to dream again.
What steps do we need to take as breeders to keep hope alive during difficult times?
Four thoughts come to mind: (1) Hold on, (2) Remain Optimistic, (3) Patiently Endure, and (4) Count Your Blessings!
1. Hold On!
You may be hurting right now, due to loss of a beloved pup or entire litter, ongoing health issues in your breeding program, or other. And you may feel like giving up on your dreams. I’ve been there. There are definitely times we need to let go of our dreams, but more often than not, we need to push back against adversity, and hold on. Think about football for a moment. Imagine that player who leaps into the air, makes an awesome catch and takes off running only to be tackled from behind by a speedy defensive back. If I’m rooting for the player who’s just been tackled, that’s when I start shouting—HOLD ON, HOLD ON— as I watch him curl his body around the ball and guard it as if it’s the most precious thing on earth. As breeders, we hold something very precious— our dreams. We have individual dreams. But we also have a collective dream to which we all aspire—the betterment of pure bred dogs. That’s a large ball to carry, not to mention to hold on while we’re being chased and tackled down by life’s opposing forces such as dog diseases, and breed specific health issues like MVD and SM. Trials will inevitably come to make us doubt. Hope calls us to fervently hold on, like the player clutching the ball, not willing to fumble. It’s the only way we will reach our goal! Imagine cheerleaders rooting you on, along the sidelines of your broken road— “You can do it! Don’t give up, don’t give in, you got this! Hold on!”
2. Remain Optimistic
Optimism is a mind set that is hopeful and confident about the future. This is a hard topic for me because I can relate to the feelings of hopelessness, pessimism, and despair. Years ago, we entered into a painful season of loss. Despite my best efforts to care for my beloved dogs and offer them excellent veterinary care, canine parvovirus dealt a crushing blow. There’s a certain hopeless feeling that sets in when you see your precious pups hooked up to tubes at the vet, struggling to survive, and then passing away. You can also imagine the disappointment after years of hard work trying to build a strong breeding program, and then realizing that your dreams may never come true. That same year we also lost two of our precious Cavalier King Charles Spaniels to MVD and our cherished pet Labrador to old age. It seemed almost too much to bear. And this was not the only heartache we’ve experienced. Each year presents new heartaches and challenges, as I’m certain every dog owner and breeder can attest to.
How do you remain optimistic when your family is devastated, dreams are crushed, and the pain of loss lingers on? How do you get back up and think of hopeful happy things? Well, you might not get back up right away, and that’s okay. Grieving takes time. It’s also healthy to mourn a loss. But here is what I found. We must actively choose optimistic thoughts on a daily (even moment by moment) basis in order to pull through. Recall all the good things in your life, and dwell on all that is good. Hope is forever extending her arms towards us. Pessimism is also extending her arms. Whom will we embrace? No one ever said that dog ownership and breeding dogs would be easy. Actually, it’s full of pit holes, twists and turns, and yes, even road blocks that may cause us to take a few steps back before finding our way again. Of course there are also countless cherished memories, pups that thrive, health testing results that make us smile, and progress made for our breed. Hope fixes her eyes on the journey ahead and fully expects good things to come!
Staying optimistic during difficult times is also easier if we have a clear goal and purpose in mind. Have you ever stopped and asked yourself, “What’s my purpose? Why do I breed dogs?” Without a clear purpose, I think we easily become discouraged in the face of adversity. I think breeders should know their purpose. I love the insights of Ralph Waldo Emerson, “The purpose of life is not to be happy, it is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.” Are we seeking to be useful, honorable, compassionate, and to make a difference in the dog world by sharing our time and talents, building strong healthy kennels, contributing to the betterment of the breed, and providing loving canine companions for families? Achievement and success take time, which brings me to my next point. Will we have the endurance needed for the journey ahead?
3. Patiently Endure
Breeding better dogs is a life-long pursuit that I would compare to a marathon rather than a quick sprint to success, and it’s definitely not for the faint of heart. Qualities such as patience and endurance, and the willingness to believe that all things are possible despite hardships play a vital role in creating a successful breeding program. I’m reminded of the delightful children’s story, The Little Engine That Could. An early version goes as follows . . .
A little railroad engine was employed about a station yard for such work as it was built for, pulling a few cars on and off the switches. One morning it was waiting for the next call when a long train of freight-cars asked a large engine in the roundhouse to take it over the hill. “I can’t; that is too much a pull for me,” said the great engine built for hard work. Then the train asked another engine, and another, only to hear excuses and be refused. In desperation, the train asked the little switch engine to draw it up the grade and down on the other side. “I think I can,” puffed the little locomotive, and put itself in front of the great heavy train. As it went on the little engine kept bravely puffing faster and faster, “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can.” As it neared the top of the grade, . . . it went more slowly. However, it still kept saying, “I—think—I—can, I—think—I—can.” It reached the top by drawing on bravery and then went on down the grade, congratulating itself by saying, “I thought I could, I thought I could.”
Do we truly believe we can reach our goals when faced with road blocks and seemingly impossible situations? Is our first instinct to say “I can’t”, or do we persevere believing that all things are possible? How dedicated are we to our journey, to our goals and dreams, and to our dogs? Endurance is achieved over time. Pace yourself, slow and steady. Keep questioning. Keep learning. You’ll get there.
4. Count Your Blessings
Finally, one of the best ways to keep hope alive while patiently enduring hardship is to remain thankful. We must count our blessings, not our sorrows. Admittedly, thankfulness didn’t come right away during that season of loss. I cried, complained to God, and counted my sorrows for awhile. But I soon realized that not being thankful had a horrid effect in my health. And so, a grateful heart birthed from the pain, as I counted my blessings. And healing soon followed. Each day I would recall my daily blessings (family, friends, good health, food, shelter . . .), and give thanks to God for those pups who survived, and for the excellent veterinary care our dogs received, and for all that I was learning. Soon, the heaviness lifted from my heart, and I began to look forward with hope. I’m incredibly thankful for my family who courageously pulled through, and for Jesus Christ, my constant companion and anchor for my soul. I’m also thankful for the opportunity to share my story with others, in the hopes they too will be encouraged.
Dear friend, dwelling on painful memories, complaining, and feeling sorry for yourself will only weigh you down. But a thankful heart that counts its blessings tips the scales in your favor, lifts your spirit and enables you to patiently endure while pursuing your dreams. I was fortunate in that one of the parvo pups from the litter pulled through. Not only did she survive, but she bloomed into an AKC Grand Champion— GCH Grandville Earth Angel (shown in photo below with me). Each time I entered the ring I had a deep sense of gratitude watching her flowing by my side beaming with health, confidence, and joy. She was never able to produce pups, possibly due to the illness when she was a pup. Not every dream will come to fruition, but thankfully, some do. She’s alive and well, and a much loved companion. That’s the greatest blessing I could have hoped for!
The Good News!
Everyone who has ever felt hopeless needs some good news. So here it is—Hope is not lost! She’s always been there, like the lighthouse perched on a hill. But we must believe that she exists in order to find her. Like a ship lost at sea we continue seeking her guiding light, and patiently wait for the fog to lift in order to find our way. It’s in those moments when we find ourselves at the end of our resources, that we begin to search for answers. We seek help, tighten ship, and find new and better ways of doing things in our breeding programs. Soon we discover the very trial that we thought came to harm us actually made us stronger, wiser, and better able to pursue our dreams. So take courage friends! Life is too short to remain discouraged. CHOOSE HOPE—Hold on, Remain Optimistic, Patiently Endure, and Count Your Blessings. Keep putting one foot in front of the other as you reach for your goals. Tell yourself, “This too shall pass.” Then follow the example of The Little Engine That Could as you press on, determined and optimistic . . .
Repeat after me, “I—think—I—can, I—think—I—can… ” Before you know it another year will pass and you’ll be coming around the other side of the mountain saying, “I thought I could, I thought I could.” May I be the first to congratulate you.
I knew you could do it!
Wishing you hope, healing, happiness, and a bright future with your dogs, and in all you do!
Blessings, Leila Grandemange
This article was originally titled “CHOOSE HOPE! A New Year’s Message for Dog Breeders.” It was first published in The Royal Spaniels Magazine Winter edition 2015. Although originally addressed to responsible dog owners and breeders, the message is applicable to anyone who has ever had a dream crushed, and needed hope to press on. I’ve edited it slightly for my blog.
Leila is the recipient of the AKC Responsible Dog Ownership Public Service Award. She writes to inspire love, care, and compassion for dogs. About the Author.
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