What is cuter than a Golden Retriever puppy? Yeah, I know- TWO Golden Retriever puppies! Fair enough but I was stuck this morning by a very poignant moment that reminded me about the Circle of Life. In my dental office, I see this circle of life every day in the faces of my patients. Having been blessed to have some of my patients for over 25 years, I have seen them progress from teenagers into parents themselves; and also from middle aged vital people grabbing the passion every day in their life to elderly and infirm, many times in various stages of dementia- very, very impactful.

But lets get back to dogs. Eleven years ago I picked out my dream dog- a Golden Retriever puppy. I have had dogs in the past but they were in my prior life as a married man and the dogs were what other people picked out. This Golden was all mine and amazingly cute. His name is TJ (named after my 2 boys Teddy and Joey) and a cuter, better behaved dog has never existed! Being my own boss, I was lucky enough to bring TJ to the office every day when he was a puppy for his first year. Patients loved to see him, brought in presents for him and he just got cuter and cuter. My strongest memory is walking him outside the office and- I kid you not- people would stop their cars in the middle of the parking lot and get out wanting to pet and hold TJ. Yes, TJ was a true “chick magnet” but more impressively, whenever I walked him, everyone would  immediately smile and point and come over to see him closer.

As the years went by, TJ lost a little of his cuteness but his demeanor just got better and better. His stoic approach to life has been an inspiration to me on a daily level. Many wonderful evenings have been spent on my front porch reading the paper or playing the guitar while TJ would sleep by my feet, a constant, quiet companion who always exudes peace and love.  So wonderful was he that several years ago I got another Golden to keep TJ company and to keep him as youthful as possible. I figured if TJ was a perfect dog than all Goldens must be perfect and I’ll just get another…..I’m not sure I have ever been as wrong about something as I was about this. When I got Charlie I was immediately impressed with how different he was- much more clingy, rambunctious, ….I could go on but that’s another story for another time. Suffice it to say that Charlie’s behavior reinforced just how perfect and rare a dog TJ was.

Well now he is 11, probably at or a little over his expected life span for a large Golden Retriever. And last month he started having problems with a back paw. Long story short, he was diagnosed with a malignant tumor in his paw that had metastasized to his lymph nodes. He had surgery to remove several of the toes on his back paw last week and he has been a very unhappy camper ever since. He has a bandage on the leg and he limps noticeably as it tries to heal. So this morning, the office was closed and I took TJ to the vet to have the area reevaluated and to change the bandage. From there we came back to the office soI could catch up on some paper work. I got him out of the car and as we walked across the parking lot (a middle aged man and his elderly lame dog), I was aware of people pointing and wanting to come over and pet TJ- out of sympathy for an ailing dog. And I immediately flashed back to 11 year ago, when TJ was the Golden puppy that people stopped their cars for. We have come full circle and the poignancy of the moment was inescapable.

So whether it’s people or animals, the message is still the same and very clear- we are all participants in the Circle of Life. It’s one thing to take note of it in those around you and it is even more powerful when you become aware of it in your own life.  In either event, the message remains- make the most of each day, enjoy every moment you can, don’t take anything or anyone for granted and be in gratitude for all the blessings you enjoy at this very moment. Thank you TJ for the lesson in life and love- you will always be more than “just a dog”!!