07 January 2013

Meet Stolle: An educator's educator

There is a compelling quote from an unknown source that immediately centers me when I consider the power of positive role modeling and the importance of a life well lived: “I strive to be the person my dog believes I am.” Dog lovers know exactly what this means. The lessons we learn from our furry friends have a lasting impact and make an indelible imprint on our lives.

We have an assortment of shelter pets—dogs and cats—that others have thoughtlessly tossed along the roadside, both literally and figuratively. One of them, Stolle (STOW-lee), is an Australian shepherd and border collie mix. She is named after Stolle Meadow, an incredibly beautiful mountain meadow nestled near the South Fork of Idaho’s wild and spectacular Salmon River, a magical place where visitors and local hikers watch chinook salmon spawn in late summer.


Our Stolle is pretty magical. too. We rescued her from the local animal shelter when she was 7 months old. It was clear from the outset that someone had mistreated her, perhaps badly. Initially, she acted afraid most of the time—cowering, skittish around strangers, especially terrified of men. I remember very clearly the day the cable guy came to hook up our TV. As he exited his truck and approached our door, Stolle nearly came unglued. Although frightened to the point of panic, she nonetheless fiercely defended her home and family. Despite her fear of others, Stolle loved us from the beginning.

We’ve learned many life lessons from Stolle during the short time we’ve owned her—she just turned 2 years old—as we have from all of our other dogs, past and present. It’s easy to lose sight of what’s important in our lives, but dogs keep us on track, mindful of life’s treasures. Yes, misfortunes occur and hardships happen, but it’s how we deal with such matters that makes us strong, our lives memorable.

Our dogs have taught me to bark less and wag more often. They have shown us that life is an adventure worth living and that it is a privilege to be loved by a canine friend. Having a dog reminds me that it is OK—if not mandatory—to have fun and to take life a little less seriously; to play more and enjoy the thrill of the outdoors, no matter the weather; that snow is meant to be tossed exuberantly into the air with one’s nose and that newly raked leaves are fair game for jumping and diving and finding out what’s underneath that cushion of color. Being a dog is synonymous with going for the gusto. No matter how old we are, in people years or dog years, we can choose to be youthful and playful—puppies at heart.

Our canine friends remind us in so many ways that life doesn’t need to be so complicated or complex. They teach us the importance of simplifying and decluttering our lives—to take lots of naps; to curl up by the fire with a favorite toy or person; to spend lots of quiet, lazy days lying in the sunshine with your belly in the air. Stolle makes me strive to be a better person; a better wife and mother; a better teacher and friend; really, a better everything. She is a faithful and loyal friend who loves us unconditionally and guards us with her very life. Dogs are more than dogs—they are the epitome of caring and compassion.

Stolle has a warm and sheltered place to relax, but she chooses to wait, sometimes in pouring rain, drenched to the bone, anticipating the sound of our vehicle coming up the lane, signaling our arrival home. Jumping for joy, her enthusiasm and excitement is a sight to behold and a heartwarming delight. At the end of a busy day, it’s the perfect, love-filled greeting to come home to. Dogs are always happy to see us, even when we leave for only a few minutes. Stolle reminds us to slow down, pay attention, and take delight in life’s simple pleasures. Often, they are what bring us the greatest joy.

The time will come when Stolle will leave this earthly place. It won’t be easy to say good-bye. We have bid farewell to several loyal and treasured furry friends over the years, and it is one of life’s most difficult moments. Mack, our beloved Labrador retriever, lived to a ripe old age of 15 years. Putting him down was terribly sad. We still miss him and cherish our memories of one of the best dogs ever to grace our lives. I am comforted in my belief that there is a special place in heaven for dogs like Mack and Stolle—loving, affectionate, and kind friends who inspire me to be the person they believe I am.

For Reflections on Nursing Leadership (RNL), published by the Honor Society of Nursing, Sigma Theta Tau International.