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life lessons thanks to my dogs, Lily the Ridgeback

What is a Soulmate Dog?

It’s become a new routine of mine to take the dogs to the dog park after the kids get on the bus for school in the morning.  Yesterday was no different.  I waved goodbye to Christian as his bus drove away and then opened my back car door, motioning both the dogs to hop in.  They were thrilled we were going somewhere before 8 am.  

As was I (please note the sarcasm here).  

The dog park is more for Romeo’s benefit.  He needs to run.  He loves to run.  I mean, really, really loves to run.  I don’t think anything makes him happier than open land, wind on his face, and the freedom to do whatever he pleases. 

As I stood there watching him run laps around me and Lily, who was – of course – sitting about a foot to the right of me, I laughed at how we had simply become spectators to the show he was putting on.  If you’ve ever seen a pit bull smile, you know how easily it can melt your heart.  Now imagine a pit bull smiling, while flying in the air.  All four legs off the ground…. over and over and over again.

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It’s almost magical.

That’s just how it is with Rome.  His presence.  His eyes.  His steel gray coat.  His bark.  His big head.  And slender, muscular body.  And of course, his ready-to-play-at-a-drop-of-a-dime attitude.  Everything about him is somewhat magical and always has been.  I quickly learned when we got him two years ago that this is now Romeo’s world and we’re just living in it.

Trust me, though, it’s a fun world to be in.  

A world that causes a little trouble here and there, and reminds you to lighten up and have some fun.  Without Rome knowing it, he adds so much comic relief to the everyday stress of single parenting.  But every now and then I’m reminded of the year right before we got him.  It was a year that lacked the fun, excitement, and head shaking experiences that Romeo brings to the table.  It was dark and lonely and only a few steps away from when my life (as I knew it) would fall apart. 

In the midst of the darkness, however, a calm, quiet, loyal, and loving force was present.  She was unassuming and safe; as if I had known her my whole life.  A familiar face in the heart of a storm.

Her name was Lily, and she is my soulmate dog.

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Being a first-time dog owner, I did everything by the books.  Pink leash, pink collar, pink name tag.  Even got her one of those PetSmart “puppy guide” books that comes with tons of coupons I never used.  I logged many hours on Google learning all about our new life with Lily but all I really knew was she was born May 16 and was a ‘hound mix’.  Took some time but we actually learned she was a Rhodesian Ridgeback and that is when I fell in love with the breed.  I joined as many Ridgeback groups on Facebook as possible to soak up more information and share pictures of my sweet girl.  

That is where I met Deena, a dog (and beer) connoisseur of sorts.  I’ve never actually met her but you can tell just how lively and fun of a person she is.  Married, no kids, travels a ton.  At the time, she had two Ridgebacks – one being Piper.  And although the physical characteristics of Piper and Lily were very different, Piper was about 9, with plenty of gray hair covering her face and Lily, just a 13-week old puppy, they still resembled each other in ways that were hard to ignore.  

Soulful eyes, sweet disposition, beautiful faces, gentle souls.  Piper was Deena’s soulmate dog.

I had no idea what that meant at the time, but I liked the sound of it:  Soulmate dog.  Sometimes referred to as your “once in a lifetime dog”.  Again, it was a term that was new to me but oh, how I loved the idea of it.  And I soon realized how well-known this was.  It’s almost like a well-kept secret that only dog lovers know.  Mention the words lifetime dog amongst dog lovers and you’ll be greeted with a sigh, a nod, a smile, and then a handful of stories about how their dog has changed them for the better.  In ways that have never happened before.  Not from a marriage or a child or a dream that’s finally seen the light of day.  

But a dog.  Pretty magical.

Soulmate dogs are dogs we love in extremely powerful and unexplainable ways.  Never really knowing how we lived before them or how we will ever live without them.  They hold such special places in our hearts that seem to reach just a bit deeper than anything else.  They come along when we least expect it.  Maybe in moments of pure happiness or moments of crippling grief.  Wherever you are when you and your lifetime dog find each other, you will soon experience not only unconditional love but a sense of comfort and peace and deep connection.

A bond that truly is once in a lifetime.

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Lily is that for me.  

She was a silent reminder to put one foot in front of the other when I barely wanted to get out of bed, as if she was nudging me (literally and figuratively) to get back out in the world again.  A 13-week old puppy suggesting to live again, who would have thought?  Even if living meant forcing myself to take a walk with her or to feel things I didn’t want to feel.  That year before Romeo, although dark and hard to look back on, was the biggest turning point of my life.  It’s when I started to break cycles so deeply rooted within myself and learned how to observe my emotions, rather than react off of them.  

I was 28 years old and finally growing up.  

Lily stood patiently, playfully, and loyally by my side.  Never needing more than I could give but always instilling a sense of hope that life will get better.  And it has!  I often think, it could have been any dog but it was her.  My fiercely devoted and stunningly beautiful Ridgeback.  My once in a lifetime girl.  My soulmate dog.  

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life lessons thanks to my dogs, Lily the Ridgeback, Romeo the Pit Bull

3 Reasons Why Dogs Make Life Better (From a 6 & 9 year old)

“Whoever said “it’s only a dog” obviously never loved one.”

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Now having dogs, I wish I had grown up with one!  

The bond I see with Lily, Romeo & my kids is really special.  There’s just something about seeing a big head resting peacefully on a little person’s body that can melt your heart like no other.  Or the joy that displays instantly on their faces when they finally get to see each other after a long day at school or a sleepover at their dad’s.  

From what I hear, nobody forgets their childhood dog(s) and I have to think it has something to do with the sense of comfort and unconditional love that comes along with having a dog.  And the trouble you can get into with a pup…. you know, like playing tug with socks or digging holes together in the front yard!  

Without any coaxing, I asked both my kids why having a dog makes our lives better.  Here are their responses.  I couldn’t agree any more with them, especially Hannah’s first answer!

Hannah, 9 years old

1.  They understand you better than people.

2.  They are better than people.

3.  They don’t care where you live, or how rich or poor you are.  They just want to be with you.  They are family.

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Christian, 6 years old

1.  I wouldn’t have someone to love.

2.  I’m never alone.

3.  We eat Popsicles together.

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I can think of a few more reasons, but I may save them for a list of my own.  And truthfully, I think the reasons are endless!  If you have a dog, I’d love to hear how they’ve made your life better in the comments below. :)

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life lessons thanks to my dogs, Lily the Ridgeback

This Is What “Just a Dog” Looks Like

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Her name is Lily.  Some times I call her Lily Monster, Lily Bear or Lily McGilly.  A lot of times I call her Mama.  Most of the time, though, I just call her my best friend.

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A year and a half ago I met this floppy eared, big pawed, round eyed beauty.  She wasn’t meant to be mine but she made her way into the deepest part of my heart like it was nothing.  At the time, my life felt like it was falling apart and to many degrees, it was.  To spare you the details, I can tell you this: where I wanted my life to go and where it actually was going were gravely different.  When you plan for a life that just isn’t possible it’s no surprise how quickly the wind can come out of your sails, leaving you feeling very broken.

Rather than picking up the pieces of this broken dream, I found it easier to keep stepping on them, over and over again, until I was numb to the pain.  Yes, my sanity was in question at this point.  Yes, not many people knew what was going on.  Yes, that time still holds rank as the hardest experience of my life.

And yes… this Rhodesian Ridgeback named Lily stayed by my side the whole way through it.  Laying next to me, night after night, as I would cry myself to sleep.  Resting her sweet head on me as my restless mind replayed all of 2012.  Comforting me when I felt, for the first time in my life, the real, honest ache of regret.

just a dog

She offered a light when all was dark.  Comic relief when it felt like all I could do was cry.  And a loyal companion when loneliness became something I came to know all too well.  I can’t say she took away any of the pain I felt, or any pain I feel today, but “when I am sad there is no greater comfort than the silent devoted companionship of my dog.”  I’m not sure who first said that but I know, with certainty, just how true this is.

just a dog

It didn’t take long before I couldn’t remember life before Lily, nor did I ever want to imagine life without her.  The squeals I hear when she greets me after 2 hours or 20 minutes, her refusal to step foot in the rain yet play like a madman in the snow, stealing as much food as she possibly can get away with, and the sweetest snuggles you could ever imagine are cherished terribly in my house and heart.

To most people Lily is just a dog, a gorgeous dog, but dog nonetheless.

just a dog

To me, she’s someone I trust.  And I’m someone she trusts.  She’s who sleeps under the blankets with me and follows me to the bathroom every morning.  She’s my sidekick when I’m cooking or cleaning or running to the store.  She’s the reason my heart grew exponentially a year and a half ago and the reason I will lose a piece of myself when she leaves this world.

When life offered two scared but sweet, sensitive souls a chance to love one another we became each other’s family.  She was just a dog but I tell you, I’ve never had a better friend in my life.  I love her beyond measure!  And I am so grateful to have such a wonderful companion by my side.  Life won’t always be easy but I read somewhere that loving someone deeply gives you courage.  And that’s exactly how it feels to love my Lily.

just a dog

Oh, and if you’re wondering, life has completely changed since August of 2013.  Things have gotten a heck of a lot better but of course they did, because as most of us all know, life is so much better with a dog. :)