Chapter 3 of A Life Worth Living – The Power of Persistence

Chapter 3 of “A Life Worth Living – The Story of Sassy”

Click here for more information about this book, its online format, and the introduction…

Chapter 3 – The Power of Persistence

(2001)

We never saw Dr. Avery again. Not because we weren’t happy with his care – quite frankly he may well have been the most caring vet I’d ever met — but simply because the location was too far from our home to be convenient for our regular vet and also because Sassy seemed so healthy.  Meanwhile, Anne, Rose, Sassy, and I continued to grow closer by the day. I like to think that my relationship with Anne would have developed into something special with or without Sassy — that it was just our destiny to be together — but the fact is that once Sassy came into the picture, there was no way I was ever leaving Anne, for my heart now required a daily dose of Sassy’s cheerfulness!

Our first year with Sassy went by in a blur. She grew so fast that it was hard to remember her as the tiny runt we had brought home that cold January day in 2001. Within about six months, Sassy had turned into a little tank of a Yorkie – and while all eight of her pounds might not amount to much for most breeds, for standard Yorkshire Terriers, Sassy was far from a runt now. For most of that first year, Sassy was truly the picture of good health. And she provided us with plenty of moments to laugh about too.

There was the time when she revved up her engines and raced along the carpet towards the floor pillows – intent on finally making that 4-inch jump to the top. Despite trying unsuccessfully every day for months, Sassy never gave up her nightly attempts. Invariably, about an hour after dinner, she’d get down from one of our laps and let us know she needed to go potty. After she’d come back inside, she always felt a little frisky because instead of wanting to lay down again, she’d instead make her way into the kitchen. Then, she’d spy the pillows (her nemesis) apparently mocking her from the living room and she’d start pawing the ground like a bull getting ready to charge (not what you’d expect from a fluffy Yorkie). After a few snorts, Sassy would suddenly take off full steam towards the pillows, and at the last minute she’d leap…and invariably end up splatting backwards.

For months she’d tried and for months she’d never made it. So on a night in early May, 2001, when Sassy started pawing the ground again and snarling at the pillows, Anne, Rose, and I quickly took our places in our front row seats (read: the couches); we watched with a mixture of glee and admiration as Sassy took off – none of us expecting to see anything other than Sassy smack up against the soft pillows and land splat on the carpet – as usual. Even as she began her run, I made ready to go over and pick her up to console her after another ‘good try.’ Yet suddenly…

“Oh my gosh, did you see that?” I exclaimed, jumping out of my seat.

“She made it!” Anne shouted, giving me a high five like we’d just seen The Bucs score a touchdown. “Sassy finally did it!”

“Hooray!” Rose clapped her hands in delight. “I knew you could do it, Girl.”

Sassy had indeed finally done it – and now she proudly stood atop the pillows on the floor. The three of us ran over to her, showering her with more praise – at which point, she promptly rolled over onto her back so we could rub her belly the way she so loved. As usual, she nearly purred like a cat when we did so.

From that day on, Sassy never had trouble jumping up to those pillows. In addition, she began to brave other climbs and jumps too – crawling all over the backs of the couches, jumping up to footstools, and the like. Naturally, Sassy’s daring do’s would not have been considered all that impressive for most dog owners — for instance, one of Anne’s best friends had a Jack Russell who seemed like he had a pair of pogo sticks for legs, regularly jumping up several feet into the air whenever the fancy struck him — but for us, we couldn’t have been more proud of Sassy’s ‘athletic’ accomplishments. Even still, we watched her like a hawk and were quick to keep her from doing anything that might cause her to be injured – as such, we never allowed her to jump off the couch or bed onto the floor and whenever she started climbing on the back of the couch, we tried to get her down. For her part, Sassy ‘allowed’ us to help her down from higher perches, but her stubbornness came out when we tried keeping her from the couch back — since Anne and Rose’s living room had large panoramic windows, Sassy loved getting up to a high perch like that so she could look outside – watching the water fountain in the small pond outside, seeing the rays of the sun shine down, or perhaps watching the birds and bees enjoy the jungle of plants that Rose was always cultivating on her front porch. I often wondered what Sassy thought about as she stared outside — she seemed so very content; happy to just BE – it was a peacefulness I very much admired her for.

****

Then there was the time when we finally heard Sassy’s bark again – for you see after that little yip at the breeder’s Sassy had never barked again. In fact she was so silent that Anne and I began to question if Sassy had ever really barked on the day we met her or not – was it something we both just imagined or did it really happen? And if it didn’t happen then how did Sassy get our attention again while the breeder was holding her back? Those were questions we couldn’t answer but the more time that went by without Sassy barking again caused us to wonder.  But that was about to change.

The occasion that caused this to happen had a bit to do with a trip I had just taken to visit my parents in Pennsylvania – it was in mid-July, 2001. On the way home, I had a connecting flight through Pittsburgh. Since I grew up a Steeler’s fan, I couldn’t miss the chance to bring Anne and Rose back souvenirs from Steel Country. Besides buying a Terrible Towel I don’t recall much else of what I bought them, except for one other thing – a little black bear beanie baby — and it was was that toy that caused Sassy to bark.

Now I should point out that even though Sassy had not been barking like a normal dog, she had developed a rather unusual way of communicating with us. As I said before, she had a habit of purring like a cat whenever she was happy about something. Apparently that led to her development of discovering a way to use a kind of snort that seemed to originate in the back of her throat. Sassy wouldn’t snort just because she could, but instead only at time when she appeared to want to tell us something — her most popular reasons for snorting being that she was hungry, wanted up on someone’s lap, wanted to play, or because she was ready for bed (and felt like we should all be too). Her snorting was really uncanny and we wondered if this was something unique to the breed or just Sassy. Either way though, we chalked it up to her intelligence and just figured this was her substitute for not barking.

But then came the little black bear. Now much to Anne’s chagrin, Rose loved to keep (and display) knick knacks and other interesting items around the house that she had acquired over the years on the family’s various world travels. She had these really cool, two-foot tall, hand-crafted wooden puppets from Thailand, a wonderful lead etching of a knight from England, animal masks and other wall art from Africa, and much more. Having grown up with all those pieces, Anne felt it was a bit of clutter, but I always enjoyed looking at them on display. (Unfortunately for Anne, I shared Rose’s penchant for being a bit of a pack rat, but that wasn’t something Anne would discovered until it was too late!). In any case, some of the items Rose collected were plush bears – she had a Stifel, another from Harrods, and others, and she kept them on display on a small wooden bench that sat on the floor near her kitchen island. While I wasn’t trying to suggest that a Beanie Baby held the same cache as her collectible bears, this was the reason why I got Rose that particular gift during my recent trip.

Perhaps to amuse me, Rose chose to sit my little black bear on the wooden bench next to her other bears. And that should really have been the end of that story — but Sassy felt otherwise. Interestingly enough, Sassy hadn’t ever paid a second’s glance to the other larger bears that sat atop their perch on the bench and looked down at her from their height of six inches off the ground. But soon after Rose had placed the Beanie Baby on the bench, Anne and Rose began to find it on the floor – strewn about in various uncomfortable looking poses. At first, they chalked it up to perhaps accidentally bumping the bench themselves and knocking the bear off (although it would have been near impossible to knock only the small Beanie Baby off without disturbing the larger bears as was the case here). But then one day while I came over to visit, Anne greeted me at the door with a smile, “You gotta see this.”

Rose was giggling in her comfy chair and Sassy was sitting on her haunches on the kitchen tile, staring up at the island countertop… and barking!  It was a real doggie bark, not her usual snorting, and she let it fly like it was something she’d done all her life. Sassy’s reason for finally speaking was obvious – she was clearly annoyed at something because her bark was short, staccato, and sounded pissed off!

“What’s she so mad at?” I asked, walking over to the counter, still amazed at the imperial demandingness of her bark.

Anne pointed to the Beanie Baby, “Remember how I told you that your little bear must be defective or something because it kept falling off the bench for no reason? Well, we discovered the reason today – it’s Sassy! She wants this bear.”

“But why?” I looked down at her — Sassy knew we were talking about the bear and she barked again and pawed the air to indicated she wanted it – NOW.

“How should I know? It’s not like she doesn’t have any toys.” And Anne spread out her hands indicating a mass of small toys which were strewn about the room. “Mom and I have been trying all day to get her attention off that bear – to no avail.”

“I don’t understand. Are you saying Sassy is stealing the Beanie Baby when you’re not looking?”

“That’s exactly what I’m saying. She won’t do it when we’re around because somehow she must know it’s a no-no, but when she’s alone she goes after the bear.”

“Oh come on. I’ve gotta see this.”

“OK.” Anne replied as she placed the little bear back on the bench. Then looking at Sassy, she held up a finger, pointed to the bear, and said in a stern voice, “NO! That means ‘No touch!’ NO!” To which Sassy merely harumpfed under her breath and walked off.

We all got a kick out of that, but then I asked, “So… what am I missing? It’s hilarious and all that Sassy finally barked, but she’s not the little thief you said she was because unless I’m missed it, I didn’t see Sassy go after the bear.”

“Not yet.” Anne smiled slyly. Turning to Sassy, she said, “Stay!” And then to Rose and I, “Hurry, come with me into the hallway.”

I followed Anne and Rose into the hall that ran from the kitchen to the bedrooms; there we all knelt down – concealing ourselves from Sassy, but still keeping an eye on the bench.

What happened next amuses me to this day.

Sassy was not fooled by our hiding – she could easily see us from her location between the living room and kitchen. She knew we were watching her – but it soon became clear she still wanted that little bear – even though she knew she wasn’t supposed to have it.

Sassy look at us.

Then at the bear.

Then back to us.

Then she barked – short and demanding.

When we didn’t come immediately to help her, she barked again.

And again.

Finally, she threw herself on the ground in front of the bench and began to roll around, whining.

I started to arise and was about to go over to see if she was all right, but Anne laid a hand on my arm and whispered, “She’s all right. It’s all an act. Trust me.”

Sassy carried on like this for a couple minutes. Then when she apparently could take it no more, she hopped up, and in one quick motion, grabbed the Beanie Baby by the ear with her teeth and raced away!

“Oh my gosh!” My jaw hung to the ground. “She just stole that bear!”

“I told you.” Anne laughed, as we all got up from our hiding spot and went to find Sassy in her own hiding spot — behind the floor pillows playing with the bear. Anne reached down to grab the toy, “No, no, Sassy. That’s not your bear, that’s Mama Rose’s. Michael got it for her, not you, silly.”

Now taking a well-trained dog out of the equation (which Sassy was not by any means), with most dogs, if you reached down to take their toys or food and they were not ready to give them up, you might well lose a finger or two, but even though Sassy clearly wanted the bear, her gentle demeanor was such that she never resisted if we took something from her. And so, the little Beanie Baby was placed back on the bench with the other larger bears.

However, gentle or not, after that day, Sassy continued to secretly steal the bear even though she was reprimanded about it time and again. Every time she took it, Anne or Rose later took it back. They tried putting it on the countertop out of Sassy’s reach, but that only led to her demanding barking (still the only occasions when she did bark), so they gave up that approach. After a while, Sassy stopped stealing it away, and instead switched to just pulling it off the bench and leaving it on the floor – apparently just to make a statement. This went on for a few weeks, and then one day, Sassy decided she’d tired of our little covert game and simply walked up and took the bear right in front of us – bolding snatching it and walking away – slowly and confidently – daring us to do something. I laughed at the sight, while Anne raised her hands in the air – at a loss on what to do now.

“Oh, Anne, just let her have it.” Rose chuckled. “We all know she’s going to get it anyway, right?”

And that was pretty much that – the little black bear that had come all the way from PA, was now Sassy’s Beanie Baby. She played with it non-stop for a week and then grew tired of it – I guess with the challenge gone and it wasn’t so appealing anymore.

It was time for Sassy to find a new challenge…

Sassy’s Life Lesson  #3 – The Power of Persistence

Sassy wanted to jump up on those pillows – and although it took her months of trying, she kept at it until finally she got what she wanted. Sassy also wanted that black bear – and again, even though she was told ‘no’ time and again, she continued to persist, until finally she got what she wanted.

Sassy’s willpower and persistence would become a common theme in her life.

For my part, prior to Sassy, although I didn’t want to admit it to myself,  I’d always had a hard time following through on things. Sure I could come up with plenty of ideas, and I was great at starting projects, but I always had difficulty sticking with things and seeing them through to the end. I was goal-oriented certainly and I did accomplish things, but if obstacles appeared in my path I generally either tried to find a way around them or just gave up and moved on to something else.

One thing that Sassy taught me was the real power that’s available to all of us if we simply keep trying.

Since learning that lesson I’ve been able to apply it to my life to create real change – earning an MBA, numerous post-graduate industry designations at work, advancing my career, expanding my family, and the list goes on and on. And Sassy was my role model and inspiration for all of this.

This reminds me of the legend about a stonecutter who was tasked with breaking up a giant boulder. The story is summed up in a quote by a Danish journalist named Joseph Riis…

“When nothing seems to help, I go and look at a stonecutter hammering away at his rock perhaps a hundred times without as much as a crack showing in it. Yet at the hundred and first blow it will split in two, and I know it was NOT that last blow that did it, but all that had gone before.”

The morale being that even though our actions don’t always look like they are having any effect, if we are persist along the right path and keep trying, eventually we can realize our goals. After all, you never know how close you might be to success – what if that stonecutter had quit on the 100th attempt? The stone would never have cracked and he would have never know how close he was to success.

Don’t give up. Keep trying. Persist. You will succeed!

Point to Ponder

Be honest with yourself – could you do a better job of finishing what you started? Do you give up too easy? Is there a goal that you’d like to achieve in life and perhaps have even taken some action on, yet haven’t persisted? Perhaps NOW is the time to revisit that and try again – only this time don’t give up until you get what you want!

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