As Dog Is My Witness
A week ago I said a final farewell to my beloved bully-boy, Elvis. He’s been a faithful studio companion for 13 years, witnessing both me and my practice transform from my early 30’s into my mid-40’s. It is more than a little strange to be suddenly working alone in my studio.
Elvis lived life to the fullest every day, rushing into everything – the end of his life being no exception. I have to admit that at 13 1/2 years he had me half-fooled he was immortal.
Elvis was a shelter dog, classified as a pitbull-cross (I don’t believe in the “vicious breed” stigma, and feel that dogs – like people – should be judged on individual merit). His lovely temperament and constant happy-go-lucky state made him more than a friend – I viewed him as a mentor and I learned many valuable life and business lessons from that magnificent mutt. Here are just a few…
NEVER GIVE UP: KEEP ASKING FOR WHAT YOU WANT
One of Elvis’ most prevalent traits was his tenacity. If he desired something he would let you know. If you said “No”, he would ask again.
And again (“Now?“).
And again (“How ’bout now?“).
And again (“Now, right?“).
Often his requests would be met with negative responses, but that didn’t stop him from rallying anew. His attitude was always “It MIGHT happen this time“.
I adopted his perpetually positive outlook and decided to reapply to galleries that I had previously been rejected by. In doing so, I secured two solo shows by galleries that had previously turned down the exact same proposal. The venues were the same, but when I applied again, different conditions were in play (a new director, a new jury, etc.).
Elvis knew that the world is constantly in flux, and conditions are always changing, so chances are the response to your request will probably change, too, if you just keep asking.
DON’T TAKE THINGS AT FACE VALUE: THINK FOR YOURSELF
Elvis was an obedient dog – and we worked hard to train him that way. But, like many terrier breeds, he was also a Free-Thinker. He had his own ideas about what he should be doing at any given time.
I liked him that way, it made him interesting and kept me on my toes. It also served as a constant reminder to not take commands or requests only at face value: Is this request reasonable? Do I agree with this request? Does this request further my goals?
For Elvis this mostly meant, “Will this new walkies route take us in the direction of Tisol?” For me it meant careful consideration of what opportunities came my way: Does this exhibition opportunity make sense? What is the return on my investment? Will this further my practice?
Elvis was very clear-minded on what his goals were (free cookies, and likely more treats bought while at Tisol). Watching him consider external requests was a great reminder to be focused and aware of blind acceptance in my own life.
LET YOUR PRESENCE BE KNOWN, BUT DON’T BE A PEST
Elvis was a foodie. He lo-o-o-o-ved his eats…and ours, too. He expected to get a bite or two from whatever his humans were consuming, but he learned early on that if he loitered at our feet and stared us down he would get nothing but a correction. His revised tactic was to be close by – let it be known he was present – and then to lie quietly and calmly until he was invited to lick plates.
This reconsidered plan worked well for him, as his good behavior would result in a few morsels of food being left on the plates as a reward.
When I began to use social media as a business tool, I consciously adopted Elvis’ plan of letting my presence be known, while at the same time treading carefully so as not to be annoying and spammy.
TAKE ADVANTAGE OF OPPORTUNITIES
Elvis always rushed headlong into life and situations with unbridled verve (granted, this didn’t always work out well for him, but DAMN, that dog knew how to live!). If he sensed an opportunity – even one that wasn’t fully offered to him – Elvis would be ready for it.
An off-leash swim might suddenly turn into a sprint down the beach. A kitchen fumble might become “Elvis! Clean up on aisle two!“. When in Tisol, play it right and you get extra free cookies.
Elvis knew he had to be ready to take affirmative action when life presented opportunities to him. If he hesitated, out of fear or uncertainty, the opportunity might pass him by.
How has this manifested in my own life? Recently, Andrew and I have had a very big opportunity presented to us; Andrew has been offered a position in a private company located in New York. Uprooting our current comfortable existence was not in either of our plans, but when life aligns and opportunities for adventure are presented, we must trust ourselves and take them (sprint down the beach, so to speak).
So…in about 6 weeks time, Andrew and I will be moving to the other side of the continent, into another country, to start a new chapter in our lives – our Mid-Life Manhattan Adventure. Elvis, even though he has physically left us, will be joining us in spirit, reminding us to be alert for the emergence of opportunities and encouraging us to snatch them up as they arise.
Farewell, Elvis, my dear friend and mentor. I thank you for your presence, your humour, and your terrific cuddles. You will be duly missed.
What life and business lessons have you learned from your beloved animal companions? Please share in the comments below.
What an awesome way to share your dog’s personality with us, Jody!
When I had to make the difficult decision to let go of my 14 year old cat Rupert in November (hours after he was suddenly paralyzed by a blood clot) I started writing a book about him for myself (sort of a history of his life). Your post has me thinking it’s time to get back on that.
Things Rupert taught me:
– Put yourself out there. (When I went to the SPCA hospital to foster a kitty, Ru was the one who came to the bars of his cage and made a connection with me. The vet tech grabbed him, saying “This is a nice cat!” and next thing you know he was coming home with me.)
– Persistence is key. Advocate for yourself. (Rupert LOVED food and constantly ‘reminded’ us to feed him. He learned to sit at his chair at the head of the table and wait patiently for scraps.)
– Live your life to the fullest. (On his last day, Ru was still making great leaps to the counter, enjoying his food, and playing, even though he had about 4 medical conditions.)
Another thing I learned:
– Things that seem difficult or unnecessarily complex up front can bring great rewards. (Both Rupert and my new kitty Miles came to me from the SPCA ill and with a propensity to pee where they shouldn’t. It took about 6 months in both cases to sort out the issues, but they have been wonderful companions with lots of love to give.)
Alison, thank you for sharing your lessons from Rupert – I like hearing about how he chose you 🙂
I, too, learned the last lesson you mention about difficult things upfront from Elvis – he was sweet, but mostly untrained and super-stubborn when we got him from the SPCA. The first 6 months were brutal as we struggled to teach him the basics (and it wasn’t from lack of trying!). A few times I was close to waving the white flag and returning him to the shelter. So glad I stuck out the rough times because he matured into one of the nicest and most well-behaved pups you could ever meet.
I’m sure you’ve been learning all sorts of new lessons from Miles!
a good snooze can change a lot. (sometimes it’s good to wait to see what changes)
there is good stuff under the sofa. (looking in weird places can provide results)
car rides are the BEST (a change of scenery can do wonders for the current situation)
a stick and a beach is the same as heaven (it’s the simple things that can bring the most joy)
Kim – these are FABULOUS!! Thank you so much for sharing 🙂
Such a lovely tribute to a beloved family member. Proof that pets can have a profound impact on our lives. So very proud of you.
Thanks, Mom 🙂 Now that he is gone we are realizing just how large Elvis was in our lives. So sad you never got to meet him in person – he was a real character and could make a dog lover out of anybody.
First, condolences on the loss of Elvis. I’ll be losing my furry studio mate soon too.
I love your reflections on what we learn from our animals. I have my favorite ever familiar, who has cancer, and her Mini-me. I favor one cat over the other. Now that I am facing losing my favorite, I have been really looking at what the other one offers. She is different. I think she is teaching me about unconditional love.
Excited for your new adventure. So big! Hope you’ll still come visit Portland. 🙂
Thank you, Christine. Sorry to hear about your favourite studio familiar. It’s hard to let go. Logically, I know that animals don’t live as long we do, but I am shocked at how fast the 13 years Elvis and I had together flew by. It seems like only yesterday that he was dragging me down the street, big goofy smile on his face, tongue lolling.
Oh, yes, visiting Portland is still in the plan – and we’ll be looking for a place with an extra bedroom so we can entice folk to come visit us 😉