As she has done throughout her life, today Reilly taught me a lesson — one final lesson on bravery in the face of loss. I am sad to report that at the age of ten and a half, Reilly died today of pancreatic cancer and her soul passed from her earthly body.
To those who have read my book, “Pack Leader Psychology,” you know that this German Shorthair Pointer with the improbable Irish name has been my muse and teacher. The working title for the book was “Lessons from Reilly,” showing just how important Reilly has been in my personal growth and my journey toward becoming a human pack leader. It is no overstatement to say that Reilly’s lessons have guided me in completely transforming my emotional, personal and professional life. Her lessons even gave me a framework for explaining and understanding human psychology and behavior that I use every day as a psychotherapist.
Her attributes are difficult to describe and might sound like the over-the-top ravings of a distraught owner, but everyone who met her was instantly awed by her old soul, her regal character and her steadfastness. Many people instantly referred to Reilly as “The Queen.” Not because she was a haughty, high-maintenance show dog, but because she had an implacable, fearless, matter-of-fact quality.
Reilly exemplified that essential pack leader quality that I write about in my book: She did not need the approval of others. She loved and was loved, she obeyed and was obeyed, she respected and was respected, but she never did so to earn acceptance. That is because she knew and loved and accepted and respected herself, which is the most essential personality trait of a pack leader.
As I write in my book, “If you don’t love yourself, you will try to manage others as a way to get them to like you,” “When you have nothing left to prove, your fear of disapproval goes away,” and “The journey to fearlessness starts with self-acceptance.”
Only when you know and honestly accept yourself can you be accountable for your behaviors. This in turn allows you to grow and progress emotionally and personally. Without acceptance and accountability people are not able to learn from their mistakes and this leads to many personality problems and relationship difficulties that we often label as “mental disorders.”
Reilly’s traits were always pure pack leader.
She was authentic: Reilly generally was on her own mission in life and did not manipulate with tail wagging or licking to earn approval.
She was strong and vulnerable: She could ask for help and would routinely stop while hunting, lift a paw, and look directly at me, signaling a need for a thorn to be removed.
She was stoic and dependable: Throughout many months of cancer, she never complained or showed pain. Several years ago a deer kicked her and cut open the flesh on her jaw, which required emergency stitches. It wasn’t until months later that I realized that kick had also broken a rib, because Reilly had never winced or slowed down during her recovery.
She was full of joy and lived in the moment: Fetching or going for a walk were all the reason she needed to become energized and playful.
She was a supreme athlete: She gave 100% on every walk, run, hunt or frisbee catch. She could jump 6 feet into the air from a standing start and once did a 15-foot broad jump in a foot of snow. She ran and walked thousands of miles with me and would have run all day every day if I could have joined her.
She was smart and intuitive: I never had to verbalize lessons such as staying in the yard, she just seemed to automatically know and obey my wishes.
She was an excellent teacher of my new dog, Hope, patiently allowing this over-eager dog to follow, idolize and learn by example.
She was calm, confident, trustworthy and unflappable, traits that she showed me were essential for pack leaders.
This eulogy could continue for many more paragraphs, as Reilly was an amazing and awe-inspiring dog to me. Reilly was a great leader who taught me to be a leader, but whose humility allowed her to also be a follower.
But now I must move forward with learning my final lesson from Reilly on how to manage grief and the loss of this tremendous friend, muse, and teacher. I am sad at losing Reilly, but I also know that her lessons will continue to be taught as I live my life as an example of a pack leader and as I teach her lessons to my patients to help them live more authentic, self-compassionate, self-accepting lives.
Thank you for being part of my life, Reilly, and I send your soul on to its next journey.
July 24, 2004 – December 27, 2014