Written by Caroline Melberg

Who knew a blind dog would teach us so much about seeing life? Apparently, Starla did.

It’s hard for people to truly grasp how this “retrieve a tennis ball all day long” senior dog lives life so fully. It’s easier to explain how Starla changed how we view growing older and life itself.

Not so long ago, we were devastated to lose our beloved German Shepherd, Maverick, to cancer.  A puppy was going to fill the hole in our life and hearts. But when the litter was born, it wasn’t big enough. There’d be no puppy to take Maverick’s place, and we thought we would not have our new beginning. We were wrong.

We missed having a dog in our life, so we agreed to foster senior-aged Starla. Temporarily. Until her permanent home could be found.

Starla was rescued by Top Dog Foundation, a nonprofit that finds new homes for dogs others label “unadoptable” because of age and health. Eleven years old, she had diabetes, a thyroid condition, and was nearly blind. She was everything a new puppy is not.

We quickly discovered we could tend to the needs of this senior dog, including how to give the insulin injections she needed twice a day. We discovered something else, too. As far as Starla was concerned, she had no disabilities.

From the beginning, she navigated corners, furniture and stairs with zero problems. She plopped herself in our bed as if to say, “This is where I’ll be sleeping” (and did). That first night she also jumped on Steve’s lap to nestle her head on his shoulder and get belly rubs. At the dog park she is the most persistent at finding a ball, looking until she finds it even when every other dog gives up. She jumps on the countertop when she thinks it’s a good idea and is always first to the door when adventure beckons.

Starla taught us that whatever age may take away, it rewards us with dignity. We fell in love with her strong spirit and the unconditional love she offered. We found strength in her resolution and knew she had found her forever home.

But Starla wasn’t finished teaching us.

When we did get a puppy, Starla’s mothering instincts came through. She refused to allow health issues to get in the way of making sure that Capone, her young charge, learned the rules. Thanks to Starla, getting through puppyhood with Capone was almost effortless.

Today Capone and Starla are inseparable. Capone waits by the door to lead Starla – now completely blind – into the house. Starla puts up with Capone’s adolescent antics. At opposite ends of life’s spectrum, they both fill our lives with joy. Through them, we see what it’s like to have life before us, and what it means to cherish the remainder of time given.

With Starla, we now know that age is just a number and means nothing to a heart.

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