Remembering a dog who defined happiness

For what seems like forever, those with many credentials listed after their names have tried to tell us what happiness should look like.

We know it can be difficult to achieve or, as a columnist in writes, “More than simply positive mood, happiness is a state of well‑being that encompasses living a good life, one with a sense of meaning and deep contentment.”

I feel happiness when I’ve finished a column I’ve been struggling with or when playing with my family’s pets — Teddy, our 9-year-old dog, and Pip, our 4-year-old cat.

But feeling happy all the time? I’ve only known one being that fits that description.

And he’s a dog.

Sully, a 12-year-old Rhodesian Ridgeback/Lab mix rescue who our friends Melissa and Sean lost to cancer recently, truly seemed happy from the moment he woke up until it was time for bed.

You could say he embodied this guide to achieving happiness put forth by

“Regularly indulging in small pleasures, getting absorbed in challenging activities, setting and meeting goals, maintaining close social ties, and finding purpose beyond oneself all increase life satisfaction. It isn’t happiness per se that promotes well‑being, it’s the actual pursuit that’s key.”

Sully relished a simple treat as much as his dinner. Given small pleasures such as those treats or an unexpected tummy rub from Melissa, his tail wagged feverishly.

Challenging activities were no match for Sully. Even in his later years, when walks with his younger brother, Smarty, could be taxing, Sully was always up to the challenge.

Meeting goals? If the happy warrior’s goal was another treat or more belly rubs, Melissa quickly learned to give in. Sully was going to pester her until he reached his goal. Many times she would give him more than one extra treat, marveling and laughing at his persistence.

Besides being close to his parents, Sully loved the cats in the family. And he never, seemingly, met a human he didn’t like.

My husband, Ed, and Sully had a special relationship. From the first time they met, the two were best buddies. Ed adored the 83-pound pooch, and the feeling was mutual. Whenever Sully laid eyes on Ed, he greeted him with some of the biggest, sloppiest licks to the face I’ve ever seen.

Finally, finding purpose in one’s life beyond oneself isn’t always easy, but Sully shined at helping others.

Our sweet Teddy was found as a puppy with his two sisters roaming Kentucky’s western hills. The Lab was shy, unsure of himself and didn’t really know how to “be a dog.”

Sully stepped up in daycare — at Francis Kennels in Xenia — and took Teddy under his wing, or paw if you prefer. He offered friendship to the shy pup, taught him how to play tug-of-war, run with abandon and swim in a pond. The older dog brought out the joy in the younger one.

I had tears in my eyes the first time I saw Teddy play with Sully. The two were friends to the end, and Ed and I were grateful for that friendship.

Even though Sully wasn’t my dog or my family’s, we felt his presence, his exuberance for life. And while we mourn his passing, his happiness still shines.


“Dogs come into our lives to teach us about love. They depart to teach us about loss. A new dog never replaces an old dog, it merely expands the heart.” — Erica Jong, American novelist

Karin Spicer is a member of The Dog Writers Association of America. She lives in Greene County with her family and two furry pets who inspire her. She can be reached at

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