Doing What You Can

My mother used to say that it was never the things you worried about that got you.  It was the things that you never even considered or those that just didn’t seem possible.   So it is with my dogs. I have two.  Ursus –a Keeshond/Chow mix—at 15 is sweet and sedentary.  He has arthritis, so even if he wanted to, walking wouldn’t be easy.  He long ago abandoned the sofa for the floor.  Jumping was too hard.

Cocoa—my border collie mix—is older by a year, but you never would have known it.  Athletic, proud, Cocoa always seemed ageless.

And then, suddenly, he didn’t seem right.  Lethargic.  Not eating.  His once magnificently curled tail, hanging limply between his legs.

A few tests and $1,000 later, the diagnosis was in:  cancer of the liver.  The same thing my father died of 20 some odd years ago.

Cocoa has good moments and bad ones and both break my heart.  I know that none of us are going to get out of here alive, but Cocoa will be going sooner.  What really breaks my heart is that I can’t help but see “sick dog” when I look at him.

I don’t want to do that—I want to just see Cocoa.  I want to celebrate his life, not prematurely mourn his death.  I want to enjoy him for as long as I can.   In other words, I don’t want to focus on the negative—that’s never a good place to be.

I told that to one of my clients this week:  Stop only seeing what is wrong.  Let’s look at what is right, and work to make that stronger and better.

I used to joke that as a born and bred New Yorker I tended to see a black cloud for every silver lining—but that’s not actually true.  I like to know what barriers are standing in my way—what could throw a wrench into the works.  But then I have this belief that almost anything is possible.  If we just work smart enough, take the time to know what needs to be done and do it, we will be able to raise the money that must be raised; find great board members; help our clients; and generally jump over tall buildings.

And if we can’t get what we want, we can do what my dog Ursus does when he is thwarted:  Find something else to want.

I doubt that Cocoa knows that he is dying.  I’m am pretty sure that he is aware that he is not jumping as high or as easily, that he is tired most of the time.  His appetite has gotten bit better with the medication, but he no longer bounces when it is time for his favorite treat.  And yet he just goes on and does what he meant to do.  He still patrols the perimeter of the backyard, making sure that his family is safe.  At night, he still sleeps at the foot of our bed or in front of the bedroom door—the better to protect us.  He does what he has to do—putting one foot in front of the other, not thinking of what he cannot do but focusing on what he still is able to accomplish.

Janet Levine works with educational organizations and nonprofits, helping them to improve their fundraising capacity, build stronger and more engaged boards.  Learn more at  While there, sign up for the free monthly newsletter.