By Dr. Karyn Jones, CCRT, OVC Class of 2001
A deep, enduring love for dogs has always been a driving force in my life. I hoped and planned to be a veterinarian from a young age, knowing that I would be able to return some of the care and devotion these unique companions so generously share with their people.
As a very young girl, I would spend my days loving, grooming and playing with my childhood dogs, Candy, Nugget and Tyffy. When I close my eyes, I can picture each of them listening as I shared my fears, exploring beside me as I learned about our world, and walking with me as I took each step forward. They remain such a big part of memories of my childhood home. I will always be grateful to my parents for enriching my life with canine family members and for encouraging my love and concern for all animals.
Not long ago, I learned of the term “Heart Dog”. Just writing those two words brings warm tears of happy memories to my eyes. If you aren’t familiar with this saying, you may have heard these very special pets referred to as “canine soul mates” or “once in a lifetime dogs”. For each person who has known and loved a “Heart Dog”, a different set of circumstances, personal needs and canine characteristics were uniquely combined to produce this serendipitous bond.
I have been fortunate enough to walk some of my steps in this life with a “Heart Dog” by my side. My “Heart Dog” was a Flat-Coated Retriever named Lyvie and she helped to shape the person and the veterinarian I am today. Soon after graduation from veterinary school, I had been recently divorced and was living on my own for the first time in my life. The day my Lyvie came home was one of the best days of my life.
Flat-Coats are well known as the Peter Pan of dogs because of their playful and eternally-young nature. My enthusiastic girl brought joy to my days, companionship to my nights and smiles to the faces of everyone she met. Together, we learned about dog sports, explored our city and met new people.
For hours, she would lie patiently at my feet while I researched how to provide better care for my patients. In time, she welcomed my new husband and stepson to our little family with generosity and joy. Lyvie was there when I was sick, when I was tired and when I was sad. She celebrated with me when we purchased our veterinary practice and loved her frequent visits with the team at Ajax Animal Hospital. My dog cuddled with me when I mourned the loss of my patients and ensured that I got up to start each day, even when it was difficult.
After many years, my playful, shining black puppy started to get some grey hairs. Our times playing together had been hard on her joints and she was slower to get up than she used to be. I did everything I knew to make her more comfortable and she was happy, but I was determined to do more to reduce her osteoarthritis joint and muscle discomfort and for the other special pets in my care as well. After 16 years in practice, I was inspired to go back to school and become certified in Canine Rehabilitation Therapy and my 12-year-old Lyvie was a patient tutor, sharing her body with me as I learned new techniques to improve mobility and relieve osteoarthritis pain. As the time to travel and leave home for the in-class component of my course grew near, I was worried about being away from her for two weeks.
One morning, soon before I was to depart for my course, Lyvie didn’t get up to greet me in the morning. She said, “no, thank you” to a cookie for the first time in her life. Her eyes told me that something was wrong. X-rays revealed cancer in Lyvie’s lungs. We brought her home, slept together one more time, and in the early hours of the next morning, my friend Dr. Trace MacKay, helped us to let her go. She died in my arms, hearing her family tell her how loved she was and how cherished she will always be.
In his book “Peter Pan”, J.M. Barrie said, “Never say goodbye because goodbye means going away and going away means forgetting”. So, I didn’t say goodbye to my sweet Lyvie-girl. I thanked her for loving me and hoped that my “Peter Pan Heart Dog” took the “second star to the right and straight on ‘til morning” to find her way to Neverland.
I needn’t have worried about leaving Lyvie at home when I went to my course; she came with me. My beautiful “Heart Dog” is with me as I help rehabilitate my patients and she will forever be a very special piece of my heart.
Read more in the fall / winter issue of Best Friends Magazine.