“Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole.” ~ Roger Caras

My take on this quote is…”Dogs for a whole life.” Today, I get the privilege of sharing my life with five fury family members.

“Pre pack” life I was a single, working mom raising my son. Bo’s father was an addict and not a consistent part of his life. I filled the role of mom and dad the best I could. Now mind you, I was not a Betty Crocker mom by any stretch of the imagination. A more realistic representation of my life would be that of Mila Kunis in the movie Bad Moms! Girls, can anyone out there relate?

Like most parents, once my son completed his education (and fire academy training) I knew (and was ready) I thought; for the day when he would be on his own. What I did not anticipate was my reaction when he delivered the news that he had accepted a job out of state and would be leaving in a matter of weeks. Up to this point, feelings of separation anxiety, loss or fear of becoming an empty nester had never entered my mind. After all, I had my career, a wonderful new husband, new home and three super cool step-kids. I had it all together and wouldn’t dare let on otherwise. Yea, right.

For 20 years every “correct” choice I made, what I would or would not do had a strong purpose behind it. It all revolved around how it would impact my son. Only later did I come to realize that, although I was proud of how I had put my child first, I had slowly begun to lose my own identity. I questioned my purpose in life. Had I lost my “true north”?

Logically, this was all as it should be – kids are supposed to leave home. It was time for Bo to take off on his Colorado adventure. It was time for me to celebrate more time for myself and give mama a raise! Bo allowed for one more trip together so I would have comfort in knowing where he would be spending the next chapter of his life. It was a fabulous time with my child.

When we returned to Texas, we packed up all of his worldly possessions in a small U-Haul trailer and I waved good-bye. Suck it up, Sheila! You still have loving family, friends, a business to run and outside interests. However, none of this filled the void I was feeling at a cellular level. That pure love – that of how a mother feels for her child. All grown up, a certain look, laugh or a tear from him and I can physically feel my heart swell inside my chest with love. Can anyone relate?

Frequently, parents are excited when they become empty nesters – more freedom, less responsibility, more money to do the things they want to do with their lives. I took a different approach and within four years filled our home with five, yes FIVE…dogs. At number five, my husband Joe jokingly asked (with a tinge of fear in his voice that my answer might not be what he was ready to hear) “Do you think this is it?”

Man’s best friend has (in my case) most certainly become woman’s best friend. My dog family has heightened my awareness to the importance of giving and receiving unconditional love, loyalty and connection. My dogs have filled a void when I couldn’t even identify what was missing! They’ve taught me the importance of opening my heart, and reaching for people and experiences that make my heart swell.

The world teaches us to hide and divide. This practice certainly causes all who do so to struggle and not know why we are feeling so empty and unfulfilled. It’s the unconditional love of “the pack” that got me through the identity crisis I wasn’t even able to articulate at that time my son left home. This love has made me oh so aware that we all could stand to take a lesson from our fur babies and embrace what’s in our heart, for the betterment of our relationships, our businesses and our world.

I hope this will inspire you to reflect, find what makes your heart swell and follow it!

Photo Above Sheila A. Jackson, Son Bo Sutton and Fur Baby Zoe