Every December 13th, I have moments of sadness, as it marks the anniversary that
my great dane Superman passed away. I still miss him terribly but when I think of all the amazing times we had together
and all the great things that he taught me, I realize how lucky I was to have had him in my life for so long. And when I look
in Supergirl’s eyes, I think about the last gift Superman gave to me.
How Superman Chose Supergirl
I had never had a dog quite like Superman. When our children were little, I knew I could leave him to
entertain them while I was busy; he helped teach a couple of the children to walk.
And when one of them fell down, Superman would be right there, licking them and making sure they were okay.
Superman as Friend, Mentor and Therapist
everything that I could want: friend, dog, mentor, and therapist. My goal is always to stay centered, but that’s not
always possible. I get stressed and emotional, but seeing Superman as he stayed in the moment, reminded me of how beautiful
things really are and got me back to where I should be. He was much wiser than I am when it comes to evaluating dogs—and
So you see I could never really replace him.
But Superman was 9 1/2 and getting old, I’d known for a while that I would have to adopt
another great dane.
When the time came, I took Superman along.
Any newcomer in our house would first have to get Superman’s approval. That’s how we wound up at the home of a
friend whose female great dane had given birth to a litter about two months earlier. One puppy,
all tan with just a little dash of white on her chest, caught my attention immediately. Some people—the Dalai Lama,
for instance—have this calm energy. So do some dogs. Superman had it. And I quickly realized that this little tan
puppy had it too. In fact, she reminded me of Superman when he was a puppy.
she’d passed the Kevin test—but would she pass the Superman test? Superman was already elderly,
and older dogs sometimes just don’t want to deal with an energetic puppy. So I hesitated to stress him out with a young
You can’t believe how well it went. The puppy immediately
lowered his head, surrendering to the older dog, and allowed Superman to smell her all over. Then, amazingly, she started
following Superman around. In a second, she had transferred her loyalty from her littermates and her mother to Superman.
And Superman accepted her. It was like Superman was telling me, “She’ll be just
as good as I was.” When I left my friend’s house, Superman followed me—and the puppy followed Superman.
New Member of the Family
quickly introduced the puppy (who didn’t have a name yet) to our 5-dog pack. She just
lowered her head, wagged her tail, and waited patiently while they checked her out, one by one, smelling her all over. Some
of them even rolled her over on her back. None of it bothered her. She was welcomed automatically. We had a new pack member.
But we also had a new member of our household. My 6 children, like the other kids in the neighborhood,
were super-excited at the prospect of the puppy. I had prepared my children well for the new arrival. For instance, they
knew that you don’t force the dog to play with you; you just let her come to you. It’s all about respecting the
I’d also taught the children that
puppies explore their world first by smell, then by seeing, then by hearing. And that’s how you let a new
dog get to know you: by nose, eyes, and then ears. Dogs have a keen sense of smell, and they can check you out from
14 feet away. You don’t need to hold out your hand to be sniffed. Just let the dog smell you, and make up her own mind
whether she wants to get to know you better or not.
I seldom used
words to communicate with the puppy, and only when I knew that she and I were on the same non-verbal wavelength—when
I saw she was making eye contact and looking to me for direction—did I start talking to her. Then it was time to name
her. Since she was already settling into her role as Superman’s protégé, we decided to name her Supergirl.
Lessons from Superman
At night, Supergirl
slept cuddled up next to Superman. Superman might have been slowing down, but he had a new purpose: teaching Supergirl
how to be a dog like him. I even saw Superman teach Supergirl the all-important dog skill of burying a bone.
Supergirl seems to have absorbed most of Superman’s lessons, even taking on Superman’s
calm mellowness, which is especially helpful in dealing with aggressive dogs. Supergirl
has been attacked by other dogs, but she has never retaliated. She doesn’t run away, either; she just stands her ground
calmly. No fight, no fright, either. And that defuses the situation.
is well on her way to becoming the new Superman.
I know there are
people who spend a lot of money to clone a beloved dog. I think I have a better way: Before the older dog passes away, introduce
a puppy who will learn from the older dog.
Some people clone their
dogs so they can replace them when they die. I say, don’t clone the dog; clone the spirit of the dog.
That’s what I did with Superman and Supergirl. And now, when I look at Supergirl, I see Superman.
It was Superman’s final gift to me. I will always remember and love him.