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Marty Wiggins

One of the most beautiful souls I’ve ever known was laid to rest earlier this month. Her name was Jasmine and she was 15 years old. As a yellow Labrador Retriever, she had become a true “golden girl,” as she far exceeded the normal life expectancy of Labs.

Jasmine joined our family in the spring of 2004. We had the unexpected honor of the pick of the litter, as 10 Labrador puppies raced to greet us in their backyard in Lindale. While we often think that early humans chose dogs to be their companions, there are animal sociologists who argue that dogs actually chose us. These canine descendants from wolves could intuitively see that embracing men, women and children brought the rewards of food, shelter and security. It was a match made in heaven.

From Sir Winston Churchill we’re reminded that “we make a living by what we get.” Jasmine never earned a paycheck, and her only bonuses came in the form of extra puppy treats. But she excelled in illustrating Churchill’s subsequent wisdom that “we make a life by what we give.” In addition to unbounded love, Jasmine gave us selfless devotion and lessons for life.

She gave mindfulness. By sharing her appreciation of life’s little pleasures, Jasmine reminded us to live in the moment. This food is great — my ball is great — lying in the sun is great — Mr. Frog (favorite toy) is great! Everyday experiences matter and should be cherished before time flies away. Jasmine completely connected with anyone who stopped to talk to her and rub her head or tummy. With the completely commendable exception of squirrel vigilance, her time and attention were yours.

She gave empathy. When Jasmine joined our household, my younger son was 11 years old, setting up a perfect “boy and his dog” relationship. The bond they formed was especially important in the trying teen years, and I’m convinced that all teenagers need a dog to hold, to hear them, to commiserate. For that matter, all parents of teenagers need a dog, too! Whether you have a case of the flu or a bad case of the blues, dogs somehow realize when it’s time for calming comfort as they curl up beside you.

She gave therapy. On days overwhelmed with stress, Jasmine was there to raise spirits and lower blood pressure. As scientists note, just being with a dog promotes the release of neurochemicals that give us a sense of well-being. Today tens of thousands of service and therapy dogs assist persons with epilepsy, diabetes, vision and hearing loss, paralysis and post-traumatic stress disorder — just to name a few conditions. In the long run, aren’t almost all dogs essentially therapy dogs? By adding recreation, structure and purpose to so many lives — especially for people who are ill, lonely or depressed — dogs are a saving grace.

She gave inspiration. Never bitter about the indignities of elderly decline — dimming eyesight, fading hearing, failing hips — Jasmine was a model of gracious dignity to the end. I hope I can do half as well.

As a member of the Women’s Fund of Smith County, I’m privileged to be among dynamic women who study best practices in philanthropy as we work — and give — together to transform our world. In this we strive to recognize others, both past and present, who make a difference. Thank you for this opportunity to pay tribute to my sweet Jasmine, who gave the best of herself each day. Her four-legged legacy reminds me that philanthropy simply means “to love mankind” and that best practices in giving can abound in your own backyard.

In honor and memory of all the good dogs in our lives who give unceasingly, please consider making a gift to one of the many animal-related charities in our area. Tails will happily wag in donor appreciation.

The Women’s Fund of Smith County is a giving circle of more than 300 women who collectively provide high-impact grants that benefit women and children. For information on membership, please call 903-509-1771 or visit www.womensfundsc.org. Marty Wiggins is a past board chair of the Women’s Fund and professionally provides fundraising counsel to charitable organizations.

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