7 Lessons from our 21-year-old Poodle Dover

Today is a day we've been dreading for quite some time.  It's the day we said goodbye to Dover, our 21-year-old poodle.  

This afternoon, he willingly got into his carrier and was quiet as we drove to the vet having no idea this would be his last car ride ever.  On the drive, a certain Englishman and I tearfully discussed what it has been like to have Dover in our life these past 3 1/2 years.  As we talked, we realized he has taught us many life lessons.  


On June 6, 2019 I woke up with a strange thought in my head.  "Find an old poodle to rescue."  I immediately dismissed the thought as one of those bizarre things you think just as you wake up.  Pretty soon the thought popped into my head again.  "Find an old poodle to rescue."  

Yeah, no.  I will NOT be doing that.  I continued to go about my day.  But the thought just wouldn't leave me. Finally, I decided to look at the Humane Society of Utah website.  Sure enough, there was an old poodle named Howie who had just been dropped off at the pound.  

Image captured using Wayback Machine

I called the number on the website and asked, "Do you still have that old poodle?"  

"Yes, we do." 

"Is anything wrong with it?" 

"He has a heart condition and hypothyroidism and is on medications. He's 16 or 17 years old." 

"Okay, what do I need to do to adopt him?" 

"You need to fill out an application and bring a leash." 

I didn't want to go to the store to buy a leash. I called my son and asked if we could borrow his cat's leash.  He agreed to meet my husband at the place and lend us the leash. Then I texted my husband. 

"Hey, on your way home from work, will you stop by the Humane Society and pick up an old poodle?"  

I'm pretty sure he wondered who had stolen his wife's phone.  But instead he texted back, "Okay." 

He and my son met at the pound. My husband later said this dog didn't seem interested in all at being adopted. It was then he found out the dog was actually 18 years old. "How much do you want for him?" my husband asked.

"Ten bucks?" the worker said.  

"Will you throw in the bed he's sleeping on?" asked my husband. 

"Sure!" He saw that the bed was worth $20. We like to joke we made $10 adopting our dog. 

I googled "How to rescue a dog" and learned the first thing you do is change the dog's name because they might associate their former name with abuse.  FYI, dogs don't know they have a name.  Their name is a command that means "pay attention." So in honor of my husband being a certain Englishman, we named him Dover after a town in England. 

When you adopt at the Humane Society of Utah you get one free vet appointment.  We found a local vet and took him to get a check up.  Yep! He was definitely 18 years old.  The veterinarian was in awe that we had adopted him.  He kept going on and on about how amazing we are and what a special couple we are.  I started to feel like something was up.  

"So here are the $1000 worth of medical treatments we think your dog should receive." 

Ah, there it is!  Yeah, no we won't be doing any of that.  We agreed to some allergy shots and a rabies shot. Turns out he didn't need either. 

If you had told me on that sunny spring day that the old dog we were adopting would be in our life for 3 1/2 years, I would have said, "Okay, never mind. We don't want him." But I'm glad we did because he's taught us many life lessons.  


Lesson #1 - What you can, do, what you can't, don't. 

Dover's favorite napping spot 

When we brought Dover home, we had no idea what he could or couldn't do.  At the time we thought we'd only have him for about 2 to 3 months, so we didn't want to invest too much into him.  We went to Walmart and bought some cheap dry dog food and a little toy.  He quickly let us know he wasn't interested in either.  

After a couple days we learned he can only eat wet dog food. He can't go on long walks. He won't ring a bell or bark to be let out to go to the bathroom. He doesn't want to be petted or sit in anyone's lap.  But he can climb stairs. He can watch TV with us. He can go on a leisurely stroll sniffing and exploring as he goes. And boy can he sleep. 

Over the course of 3 1/2 years, one by one he stopped being able to do most of those things.  When he couldn't climb up a flight of stairs to see what a certain Englishman was up to, he just waited at the bottom of the stairs.  When he couldn't explore outside, he just sat and waited while we went on walks.  When he couldn't watch TV with us, he wandered around to be near us.  

I think as we get older, it's easy to push ourselves and even injure ourselves, trying to prove to ourselves that we aren't getting older.  Aging is difficult but it's real.  An 80-year-old isn't an 8-year-old.  Dover knew that and seemed just fine with what he could no longer do. 

Lesson #2 - Don't whine, just try.  

Dover was quiet.  I mean really quiet.  It was months before we knew he could bark or make any sound.  A few months after we adopted him it got cold here in Utah.  We don't know why, but he started limping pretty severely.  Of course we were worried, but he never made a sound or acted like it bothered him.  His limp got so bad, we wondered if it was time to put him down.  But he never gave up.  He'd limp to his food bowl.  He'd limp outside to go to the bathroom. He'd limp back to his bed to sleep.  And then one day, he stopped limping and walked normal again.  

I think when life throws us a curve ball it's easy to say, "That's too hard. I can't do it." But instead of putting our energy towards complaining about it, we can focus on trying to do what we can.  

Lesson #3 - Your looks aren't why people love you.  

Don't let these photos fool you.  Dover was an incredibly ugly dog.  His fur was thin revealing all his dark spots and skin growths. His paws were discolored from lots of licking.  His eyes got cloudy as he went blind. His eyelids were always gummed with goop that he wouldn't let us touch. He was a hot mess. 

I feel like my social media is flooded with lotions and potions to stop my aging process and to help me look younger. (Just how old do these companies think I am?)  Every ad is about how to hide wrinkles, not how to embrace them.  And what are we subtly and not so subtly being told? "If you look young, people will like you."  Dover didn't care what he looked like and we loved him anyway.

In a world that values youth and beauty, I think we can be more like Dover and say, "Here I am, warts and all!" And we can still be loved for who we are. 

Lesson #4 - Communicate your needs. 

Dover's bathroom spot in the snow.

Dover was an incredibly quiet dog.  As a result it was hard to know when he needed something.  But he found a way to let us know when he wanted to eat or go outside--usually it was a gentle nudge on our leg.  

When we finally heard him bark, we were shocked.  He reserved those for rare moments usually when he was hurt or felt threatened.  After our house fire and we got brand new hardwood floors, he couldn't walk on them very well.  Often he would slip and fall and it looked like he was swimming.  If we weren't close by, he'd yelp.  He knew he needed to be lifted so he could walk again and he knew we'd come running.  Once he got his leg stuck in his cage and he screamed out for us to rescue him.  

Dover knew how to call out for help when he needed it.  Can we?  Are there times when we are "stuck" but we are too stubborn to let anyone know?  As an educator, I see this often with my students.  They don't want me to know they are struggling and then I don't find out until it's too late for me to help them. If we don't cry "Wolf!" but ask for help when we really need it, people will be eager to rush to our side to help us. 

Lesson #5 - Do what works for you. 

Dover wasn't your typical dog.  He didn't like to be touched.  He didn't like to petted or stroked.  He hated to be groomed or cleaned up. He just didn't want anyone near him but a certain Englishman.

Dover waiting for a certain Englishman to come home. 

If a certain Englishman had spent all day away, as soon as he walked in the door, Dover would rush to his side and try to get him to go to his home office.  He couldn't relax until a certain Englishman was sitting down in front of his computer.  

Dover asleep after watching a certain Englishman working from home. 

One time a certain Englishman had a two-day business trip to Boston.  Dover couldn't relax and fall asleep.  So I put on a 15-hour YouTube video of relaxing music on a certain Englishman's computer so he could watch it and fall asleep.  

How often do we do things because we think that's what society wants us to?  However, we don't like doing it all. Dover figured out how to be a dog in our home in a way that worked for him.  Wouldn't we all be happier if we could figure out how we really want to fulfill our roles? 

Lesson #6 - Find your source of comfort. 

Dover asleep in our Airbnb.

On Memorial Day 2022, we had a house fire when a battery charger exploded in our pantry.  Fortunately the damage was minimal, but it took months for everything to get replaced.  At one point we had to move out of our house for a couple weeks so our hardwood floors could be replaced.  

(In case you are wondering, I had bought the battery charger on Amazon for our Dyson Stick vacuum and it has since been recalled.) 

For a 21-year-old blind and deaf poodle, this change wasn't easy.  Have you noticed that Dover is usually on an oval gray dog bed?  We found that as long as he could be near that, he could sleep.  As long as he had that with him, he was home.  

Sometimes life throws stuff at us that is stressful.  I think we'd all be wise to follow Dover's example and figure out what grounds us and keep that close by.  It might be prayer, scriptures, herbal tea, a bubble bath, or maybe a soft, worn out gray pillow.  Whatever it is, don't be afraid to lean on it during the tough times.  

Lesson #7 - Live so that you'll be missed. 

Dover's space after he passed. 

Dover's nickname was "Grumpy Old Man." He wasn't snuggly.  He wasn't friendly. He was ugly. He was stubborn.  

He was also patient. He was consistent. He was loyal. He was curious. He was kind. 

Dover came to us as a sickly 18-year-old rescue. He was living on borrowed time, and I think somehow he knew that.  We continually were shocked that he survived another week, then another month, then another season, and then another year.  I think he might have thought his name was "You're still alive?" He heard it so often.  

And yet, he still managed to work his way into our hearts despite all of his foibles and limitations.  He worked with what he had and still managed to teach us lessons about life.  I don't know how old I'm going to live to be, but if I end up to live to be the equivalent of a 21-year-old poodle, I hope I can live so that I'll be missed when I am gone. 

We miss you already, Dover.  May you rest in peace. 

Dover 2002-2023


We'd like to give a special thank you to those at Country View Veterinary Hospital for being so kind to us.  We never felt judged, criticized, or pressured to keep him alive.  They treated us with empathy and compassion.  We know his final moments were in loving hands.  


What a beautiful tribute to him. We could all live more meaningful lives, regardless of the years, if we take to heart these lessons from Dover. Rest in Peace, little sir. ��
Your love and goodness to Dover is priceless. Thank you for sharing this tribute.