Things I Learned From Pete the Airedale
by Mary Gentry
My husband and I recently lost our 13-year-old Airedale Terrier, Pete, and I’ve been walking around with a 75-pound hole in my heart. At the risk going all Marley-and-Me on you I thought I’d share a few of the things Pete taught me:
Don’t be afraid to get dirty.
In fact, relish the opportunity. Pete loved to dig in the dirt. As a result, he never missed out on the action, had an endless supply of treats squirreled away in our back yard, and indulged a lifelong passion. Yes, he frequently had dirty paws and a muddy nose, and once or twice he got absolutely covered in mud but it was never anything that couldn’t easily be washed away.
Have a purpose.
Terrier comes from the Latin word “terra” meaning “earth.” Terriers are born to dig. Pete created what we called the Airedale Excavation Project, a big hole in an out-of-the-way flower bed in our back yard. At first we tried to stop him from digging altogether then finally compromised on the location. About once a week the project got a foot or more deep. We’d fill it in, and Pete would start all over again. When Pete began to show signs of old age, our vet used Pete’s interest in digging as one gauge of his health. Pete was out there digging until a week before he died.
Pete walked into any situation assuming that something good would happen. He wasn’t a pushover. He had to check things out for himself. But because Pete trusted in others he rarely passed up the chance to make a friend.
Start the day out happy.
Pete was the happiest dog I know. He was an underfed stray when he came to live with us and for the first five or six years he viewed breakfast as a daily miracle. Every morning he’d bound into the kitchen full of energy, his tail wagging. Pete’s happy energy was infectious and put the whole house in a good mood.
We never had to second guess what Pete was thinking. Pete had a big personality and a big bark. If he wanted something or thought something wasn’t right, he let you know. “Yes, Pete. It’s time for your dinner.” “No, Pete. You can’t have another snack.” “Thank you, Pete. That IS a strange car parked across the street.” It wasn’t that he always had to have his way. Pete was just a guy who liked clarity.
Don’t participate in bad behavior.
Pete had a big fan base (both canine and human) at the doggie day care he frequented. One of the things the staff loved about Pete is that he didn’t tolerate bad behavior from other dogs when things got out of hand. If you watch The Dog Whisperer you know that a good pack leader simply ignores bad behavior. Pete would just walk away and get the party started elsewhere.
Help the new ones get on board.
When the arthritis and diminished eyesight that come with aging settled in, Pete went from being one of the rough-and-tumble pups in the large dog yard at doggie day care to “grandpa” and unofficial greeter in the small dog room. He loved his new role. In the morning he’d check everyone in. Then he’d sit on a crate next to the human in charge to guard the room or curl up on a bed with a couple of the little ones for a nap.
It doesn’t matter where you start out. It matters how you finish.
I don’t know who was crazy enough to abandon Pete, but when he was four or five months old someone tied him to the chain link fence of our vet’s kennel out in the country. When Pete showed up at our house he was skinny, scruffy, and unsocialized. There were a hundred questions we never got the answers to: When was he born? Who were his parents? Why would someone give him up? But none of that mattered. Thirteen years later Pete had a great home and dozens of friends and family who mourn his passing. Pete has a place of honor on the list my dog-loving friends call, “The Great Ones.”
Pete was our fourth Airedale. One of the things I loved best about him was how absolutely unlike any of the others he was. Although he was well-trained and passed several levels of obedience, Pete always knew what he liked, what he wanted, and what he was good at. Like any smart dog, he even knew his limitations. One day a doggie day care staff member wrote on the activity card they send home, “Pete had a great day being Pete.”
We should all be so lucky. I would love to head home at the end of the day and have someone write on my card “Mary had a great day being Mary.” What would we be capable of if each of us were able to bring the best of who we are and what we do to work every day and leave happy?
I haven’t mastered these lessons. Haven’t even come close. All I can do is to try to live up to Pete’s example.
I miss you, buddy.