Dogs and the Meaning of Life

Shari is a survivor. She’s lost her parents, her home, and more. Through all these losses, her pets are what helped her to find the blessings of life. What follows is a glimpse into a life full of pain but also love and hope.

Years ago, Shari and her husband had the country club life. But for all its perks, they also found it to be a life of constant stress. And so they decided to move from Nebraska to Missouri in search of “healing waters” and “a simpler life”. In the middle of this life transformation, which included moving into a cabin, they also took in a few Labrador dogs.

labsinwaterUnfortunately, their new life didn’t remain idyllic for long. First, Shari’s dad died. “I was so grateful to have those furry souls to sooth me. To give me their scruff to hang onto in such dark times.” Then, within a year on Valentine’s Day, her mom also passed away. “I was a mess again. My dogs, they saved me. I had to care for them. Period. They made me pull myself up by my bootstraps and be a big girl.”

We have been fortunate people. We have lived through loss of people we loved, the pets we cherished, and every tangible thing a person judges their existence by.

As if this wasn’t enough, more tragedy lay ahead for the family. When the family left Nebraska, Shari had left behind a lucrative career. Now living more frugally, flood insurance seemed like an expensive “just in case” policy that would never be needed. Besides, when they bought their home in Missouri, the Corps of engineers assured them that their area would never flood again. They even advised the family not to bother with flood insurance.


labsshariThe decision to forego flood insurance proved a big mistake. In May of the same year that Shari lost her mom, her husband was away on a job in Kansas, and their home flooded up to just under the window sill. Shari escaped with her computer, her dad’s guitar, and a few other material possessions which she now describes as “just stupid stuff really”.

To make matters worse, the weather that spring stayed cold and rainy. Shari had initially borrowed a pup tent from a friend and set it up at her brother’s pond. “I didn’t plan on living in a tent with eight dogs. But I did.” After a few days, she upgraded from the tent to a camper. Then after several weeks, she was finally able to boat to their home. It was mold-infested and totaled, but she had nowhere else to go, and so Shari and the dogs lived in her uninsured home. “Through all of it, they were my only strength. As they’ve always been.” About this time, although the decision cost him his job, her husband returned to be with her.


Eventually, her husband found a job with a company dealing with anhydrous ammonia, but misfortunate seemed to haunt the family. In November, Shari got a call. Her husband was being evacuated from an emergency scene by air ambulance. He had third degree burns over one-third of his body and smoke inhalation injury. He spent two months at a burn and rehabilitation center.

Now you can imagine, at this point we have lost everything. People we loved, our home, and all the important “things”. And now my husband would never be the same. He’ll never work again, carries oxygen and has post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). I didn’t know if I could keep it together for him.

labsfamilyThe family was still living in what Shari called “the shell of a house”. Moreover, her husband shouldn’t have lived; his injuries were that bad. Worse, he wanted to die. “But my husband decided to survive FOR THE DOGS. He worked hard through unimaginable pain. His whole body’s been affected, even his brain. THE DOGS are why we both survived. They’re why we both had to get out of bed. We were dead broke. We had nothing left. BUT WE HAD THEM. They’re what mattered. Have always mattered. THEM. We knew they were sent to us for a reason, and we would never betray that bond. They are the family we call home. They saved us.” And despite the fears of the staff at the burn center, the dogs never once added to his pain. In fact, the dogs were very in tune to his injuries. None of them jumped on him or acted out at all. “They were perfect and just loved him up.”


Most of the family’s original Labs are gone now. The only one left will turn 14 on Valentine’s Day. Their dogs gave them love, a gift that’s meant to be shared, and so life for Shari now revolves around animal rescue. She photographs animals who need help getting adopted, or as gifts to those who are feeling loss, or for fundraising activities for rescue groups.

Funny how life is. We’re now happier without all that stuff. Every aspect of our lives revolves around dogs and family … The true meaning of love.