What My 3-Legged Dog Taught Me About Life on 2 Legs

Ashley Cleland

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Like many Millennials, I was super excited to buy a home. Not for the kids I will someday have but for my dog Kinzi to finally have the backyard she deserved.

On the day we moved in, I found a lump in her front right paw.

I thought it was a bug bite. It wasn’t.

It was an aggressive cancer. She needed an amputation of most of her leg as soon as possible. I scheduled her surgery for one week later.

I grieved a lot. She didn’t. She simply kept moving. The experience of losing her leg, watching her walk again, and witnessing her now has deeply impacted me.

Since the chapter of her life on 3 legs began, she’s taught me so much about life. I hope these lessons will help you as much as they have helped me.

Lesson 1: Be here, now.

On the days leading up to the surgery, Kinzi would rest her chin on my lap and I’d gently massage her paw. She would sigh deeply and I’d breathe in “here” and exhale “now.”

“We’re still here,” I’d repeat into the fur on top of her head.

After the amputation, my dog re-learned how to walk. She re-learned how to climb a few steps. She re-learned how to balance while eating her food. She re-learned how to play. She quickly adjusted to most of her life activities and usual silly self within a few weeks.

She was still here.

She didn’t think about all the things she wished she’d done while she still had four legs.

She didn’t blame herself for getting cancer.

She didn’t judge herself for moving more slowly or needing help to get on the couch. (She did, however, get better at bossing her humans around).

She radically accepted a huge life change. Most humans, myself very much included, can’t do that easily. She woke up with one fewer leg one day and has made the most of every day since.

She is present, here in this moment, for whatever belly scratches and treats are to come. We should be too.

Lesson 2: You don’t need 1/4 of the things you think you do.

I thought about dog park trips, the long adventure walks we loved, and of course, the big beautiful backyard. I was sick at the thought of all the things she’d miss out on.

While her humans worried, my dog’s chief concern remained when it would be time for dinner. She’s still here.

It turns out she didn’t need 4 legs to do any of the most important things in her life: snuggling her humans, sunbathing in the yard, and begging at my feet while I cook dinner.

Something that used to seem so essential, a whole entire leg, wasn’t necessary for enjoying her one precious life.

In a season where I truly feel that I’ve lost so many of the things I love, this is a humbling lesson. Things that once felt essential, like responding immediately to a work email, simply aren’t necessary. This dose of perspective will stick with me for a long time.

As long as we can warm our souls in the sun, have those we hold dear and a place to call home, anything else is a bonus.

Lesson 3: It is a privilege to love someone for their whole lives and witness how they change.

Getting to love so many versions of the same being — human or otherwise — is a beautiful thing.

People feel really bold when you walk around a park with a 3 legged dog. Children will run up to us and proclaim, “Your dog only has 1 front leg! Did you know?”

Which, of course, I know but sometimes I like to respond, “What?! Where did the other one go?” Humor can be the best medicine.

As those we love change, we have opportunities to transform how we love them.

For Kinzi, we’ve continued our long walks in a new way. When she gets tired, we put her into a special dog backpack and continue on our adventure. She loves this backpack and dances when she sees it. This has become a sweet, funny way for us to bond.

Honoring those we love is embracing the ways they grow and change, and falling in love with them all over again.

Sometimes our furry mentors are the ones we need the most.

My life on 2 legs is forever changed by these lessons. I am sure there are more to come in this wild season of life.

May we all be present, focus on what matters, and always allow our love to transform as those we love do.

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