Everyone has something they love, something to cherish and adore, an object of our affection. Mine is my furry first mate, Elli. And late one night last week, when I had taken her ashore for a walk in a port south of Boston, a truck hit her.

It all happened in an instant and suddenly the dog I loved so much was lying injured on the street.

I couldn’t think of anything other than getting her to the nearest vet.


Somewhere in the back of my mind I wondered why I wasn’t crying.

With the help of the two young men who were driving the truck, I took her to the VCA Animal Clinic in Weymouth where she (and I) were treated fantastically. Once I passed her off to a doctor, the tears came and persisted for days. She was in shock and in pain, but the x-rays showed the damage was only to her right hind leg. Unfortunately, the bones were badly broken, and the vet called me during surgery to say there was nothing that could be done to save the leg, and, with my permission, they would like to amputate.

Today I picked Elli up and brought her back to Athena. I do not want to write about guilt, or sadness, or terror; all things I have been feeling for the past days. Instead, I want to share the lesson I am trying to learn from my little dog. That lesson is to be resilient, unyielding in a desire to live, and, most importantly, to pick up from wherever life has placed me without resentment or anger.

Just hours after her amputation Elli was walking around and wagging her tail. Already she has become skilled at navigating the world with one less limb. And although I do admire how quickly dogs can recover physically, I am much more amazed at the resilience of spirit. Never in my life has something so terrible happened to me, yet I sulked, pouted and cried – you name it. Elli did none of this.

Now, you can argue that dogs lack the intelligence to really mourn the loss of a leg, but that doesn’t matter. The point isn’t whether or not Elli is smart. I know she doesn’t understand the limitations her life might have. But I do know that she is in pain and finding the world a little more difficult. Yet she is still very much the same sweet dog. Even with 12 staples on her rear she still is trying to chase birds and explore everything. She is excited to see me. It’s almost like nothing has changed for her.

As I am writing this, I’m reading a story in the Portland Press Herald about a young man from Old Town who lost his leg in a motorcycle accident. Even after nine surgeries, he is taking on his rehab with commitment and courage. I know that’s a different story – Elli is a dog after all. His recovery is harder and more emotionally challenging, and I have the upmost respect for him.

Meanwhile I watch Elli and I admire her. And I hope that I can be like her when faced with catastrophe. There’s a lot that I cannot control and misfortune strikes everyone. It can hurt us, make us sad, and set us back. But there is never, ever, a reason to give up. Life is too full of wonders – for Elli there are places to be sniffed and belly rubs.

As for myself I have the ocean, the people I love, the sunrises and the sound of waves. If I can move forward from tragedy without anger or resentment I truly believe that life will take me that much further. My uncle, Tom Ritch-Smith, told me to pick up from where I am, not to wish I was someplace else. Those words stuck with me, and I’m going to try and live with them in mind.

Elli should be recovered in around three weeks. My dad is coming to drive her home to Maine so she can recover on solid ground. The next few weeks will be dreadfully lonely without her, but she will be back eventually and we will continue this voyage together, just me and my three-legged dog.

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