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Life lessons from a well-traveled dog
Life lessons from a well-traveled dog Cubby never passed up an opportunity to teach Ross, Ryan, and James about the essential building blocks of good character.

Looking back on your family’s travel adventures, do you recall a special companion who set an admirable example for your children or grandkids? Cubby was the virtuous Labrador retriever who camped with my family during my three sons’ ‘growing up’ years. She certainly helped my husband, Dennis, and me raise our boys—from toddler days through teenaged stages. One trip at a time, Cubby convinced us that a good dog’s loyal heart and gentle spirit have the power to shape a child’s character in lots of amazing ways.

Cubby’s introduction to our family was characteristically easy. One sunny autumn morning when our sons James, Ryan, and Ross were ages one through seven, we adopted Cubby from a local animal shelter. She bounded eagerly into our motorhome, amidst the wiggling and animated chatter of three small boys. Cubby settled in immediately and dozed peacefully on her way home from the pound, as though she’d always been a member of our lively, noisy tribe.

The big, glossy black dog bonded instantly with our sons. We welcomed her into our family, and she returned the favor by embracing the boys as her own precious puppies. Her tender care and watchful eyes followed the three brothers through all our camping jaunts—on weekend getaways, extended holiday trips, and entire summer seasons on the road.

While we prepared for each camp-out, Cubby was always the first one into the RV and the last one out. Never a snob, she seemed equally delighted with all the recreational vehicles we owned over time, from a no-frills pop-up to a compact travel trailer, to two vastly different motorhomes. Like the rest of our family, she was whole-heartedly hooked on traveling.

Cubby never passed up an opportunity to teach Ross, Ryan, and James about the essential building blocks of good character. Following are just a few of the positive life lessons that Cubby demonstrated, time and again.

Be loyal.
Cubby was kind to everyone she met, but the five of us were clearly her ‘extraordinary’ people, the ones she would race to the ends of the earth for, if we needed her.

Her tender care and watchful eyes followed the three brothers through all our camping jaunts—on weekend getaways, extended holiday trips, and entire summer seasons on the road.
Practice patience.
Even when we left Cubby alone in our RV for an hour or two, she was always thrilled to see us upon our return. Moping and complaining? No way! Cubby waited patiently for her family, and she never ceased to celebrate our homecoming with open paws.

Stay cheerful.
If ever a dog could flash a smile, Cubby was the one. Her perennial expression was a sweet little grin, and at her other end, she sported a peppy, wagging tail that effectively expressed good cheer and upbeat expectations.

Forgive and forget - quickly.
Cubby loved playing outdoor games with our boys and their friends, but at one campground, she ventured a little too close to a fast-paced wiffle ball tournament. Slugger Ryan whacked the ball mightily and tossed the bat backwards as he started running the bases. Poor unsuspecting Cubby was bonked on the nose by the flying bat which (fortunately) was made of hollow plastic. The entire group of twelve wiffle kids flocked to Cubby’s side. She was so pleased with all the hugs, hovering, and sympathetic pats, that she gracefully overlooked her bumped nose.

Cubby similarly forgave her veterinarian with face licks and tail wags each time she administered annoying or uncomfortable treatments, such as temperature readings (taken you-know-where), and blood drawings. Cubby was a lover, not a fighter, and she never, ever held a grudge.

Express affection.
Public displays of affection were another one of Cubby’s fortes. Whether she was wildly wagging her tail to celebrate our return to a campsite, kissing someone’s cheek, or dancing merrily in circles to let us know how much she cared, Cubby shared friendly feelings openly and generously.

Love unconditionally.
Cubby showered us with her time, energy, and attention, and expected nothing in return. Her world simply revolved around the comings and goings of her chosen family. There’s an old adage that we should strive to be the people our dogs believe we are. How amazing the world would be if we all lived up to our pooches’ rosy estimations of their masters’ potentials.

Find joy in simple things.
Cubby found her best fun in down-to-earth pastimes—relaxing on a grassy lawn with other camping canines, trotting on a breezy beach with her boys, or watching chipmunks play tag on overhead branches. She reminded us how rewarding simplicity can be.

Summon the courage to protect others.
Cubby was super-protective of our boys, and her vigilance often extended to others whom she sensed were vulnerable. She barked at and deterred several snakes (some poisonous) when they showed up near kids in the woods, or (gasp) inside a swimming pool. Once when an excitable young dog at a neighboring campsite grasped a passing toddler by the arm, Cubby intervened instantly with a stern corrective bark, causing the startled animal to release the child from its jaws before serious injury occurred.

Listen well.
It’s often said that you can learn more by listening than by talking. Cubby could have been the inspiration for that truism. With her keen attentiveness to every word we said, she was, without a doubt, one of the world’s most devoted listeners.

Accept and adjust.
During her fourteen years on earth, Cubby suffered from chronically creaky hips, recurring cancer, and breathing issues that eventually hampered her strength and mobility. She graciously accepted her mounting physical limitations and forged ahead with heroic determination. She seemed to enjoy using the ramp that Dennis built so she could climb into our RV, and eventually, when we had to lift her in and out of our rig, she expressed her appreciation with blissful kisses.

Offer encouragement.
After the accidental death of our neighbor’s much-loved terrier, open-hearted Cubby cheerfully ‘slept over’ at the woman’s house - for several months. Cubby’s nightly companionship comforted the elderly widow who, in turn, shared our family’s sadness after Cubby’s passing.

The end of an era…
Gone for several years, but never forgotten, Cubby was the gentle, selfless traveling companion who made me realize that every child deserves to grow up with a virtuous dog.

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"Life lessons from a well-traveled dog"
   authored by:
Paula Loehr, R.N., B.A., worked in the fields of community health and nursing education, and was a school health nurse at the elementary, secondary and collegiate levels before becoming a fulltime journalist. Her writing specialties include family tr...

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