My dog is a teacher. Every day he shows me that all we have is this moment. And for one moment last October, I thought I lost him.

We had just arrived at the park—his happy place. He circled me a couple of times enticing me to throw the ball, and when I did, he raced along the grassy slope after it. But halfway down he stepped into a hole and tumbled in a way that I thought his spine snapped.

He yelled out in pain and I ran down the hill and held him. Until then, I’d never heard him so much as whimper—even years before when he got caught under some chicken wire that flayed him from his stomach to his spine. Not a peep. I knew this was bad. My mind raced as he cried.

I carried him to the truck and rushed to the ER vet where they diagnosed him with something called Fibrocartilagenous Embolism (FCE). Basically, FCE occurs as the result of cartilage spurs breaking off and pinging the spine. They explained that he had temporarily lost use of his rear legs, and that he’d be immobile 4-6 weeks. They also told us that he’ll never fully recover to the dog he was just earlier in the day.

During those first days we carried him outside so he could do his business (yeah that was interesting), and made sure he was always comfortable. But Strider quickly grew bored of the injury, and a little over a week later he was dragging himself across the floor to find a ball. It was his love of play that helped him begin walking a month ahead of schedule.

Strider turned seven this summer and all he still wants to do is play. All. The. Time.

But he can’t jump into the back of my truck anymore, and sometimes on our walks he’ll start to limp. You wouldn’t know it from his bright eyes and desire to work, but at seven, and after such a traumatic injury, he is in decline. I know. This isn’t my first dog rodeo.

The funny thing is that Strider doesn’t know he’s in decline. Sure, I sometimes have to cut our neighborhood walks short because of the limp, but he still walks with a playful swagger. In his mind he’s still a fiery puppy.

He doesn’t know that the damage from the FCE will only get worse as the years go by. He doesn’t know that he’ll soon spend most of his days sleeping because that’s what happens to dogs. He doesn’t think about how one day he’ll leave me broken.

He lives for the moment. The chase. The now.

And I can’t help but think that this is what endears me to these animals. Living in the moment is a brilliant lesson in how we all should live life. Not in the past. Not in the future. Now.

Because right now is where life is.

And if I walk out back right now, where he’s guarding our yard from the mailman, he’ll grab a ball, drop it at my feet, and look up at me with his tongue wagging.

I suspect he always will.

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