Saturday, May 14, 2016

Old Dogs and Children

Daisy among the daisies.

 We lost our beloved dog Daisy a couple of weeks ago. My wife and I were crazy about that little animal. I'm not one of those who believe the old "all dogs go to heaven" / Rainbow Bridge mythology, but I have come to believe that some dogs definitely must go to heaven if the universe makes sense at all.

Daisy and the old guy she rescued.
I'm working on a book about the subject that I hope you'll read when it comes out. It outlines the thinking and scripture that have brought me to the opinion that God will one day reunite us with our beloved animal companions.

First, it's possible.  If God can raise something as complex as a human being from the dead, I do believe he can manage to restore a feisty little bit of a mixed breed retriever. I say that because I know for sure and certain that God sent us the little dog in the first place.

Back in 2005, my daughter's dog Suzy was living with us. We'd had her for more than a decade and she eventually became very sick and my daughter made the difficult decision to have her put to sleep. It was a huge blow to our family as we were all very attached to her. We all showed up at the vet's at the end - three large men and two tall women all crammed into the tiny treatment room. The vet saw that there was a lot of emotion happening and wasn't sure quite how to handle that much grief packed into one little room surrounding one very sick little dog. He brought us a children's book called the Rainbow Bridge. Now all of my kids were in their twenties. I had gray hair. There were no children there, but the vet had no other comfort to offer. We grieved for that little beagle for years.

Walking with Suzy
Then our middle son, died suddenly and once again we were plunged into grief that was deep and painful. My wife developed a full blown case of bipolar disorder, in part, due to the stress of losing our boy.  One thing we both knew was that we couldn't imagine every taking in another dog. We become too attached to living things that we care for.

So, Sheila, my precious wife, never one to sit around and do nothing found her nursing skills becoming impaired. She developed a severe hand tremor and had to quite working as a nurse. She took up home care for elderly clients and took on one lovely woman named, Mary Bob. Not content to provide care on the fly, my wife took on the job with all the energy and efficiency of two people, despite the continuing damage being done to her by her struggle with bipolar. Where she no longer had the skills to provide help to Miss Mary Bob, she roped me into it.

One afternoon, after I had finished pressure washing the mold off the sides of Miss Mary Bob's house, I was carrying my tools back to the shed when I saw movement in the grass.
Mary Bob's regular landscaper/gardener had recently been deported to Mexico and hadn't swum back yet, so the grass was getting pretty tall.  As I watched a pair of black ears emerged from the grass followed by dark eyes and a friendly doggy snout.

She came up out of the grass and loped over to me where she threw herself down on her back at my feet, exposing a skinny ribcage covered with fleas. I looked at her and hardened my heart.  "Oh, no," I said.  "We just can't take in another dog. It would hurt too much to lose another one." I put up the tools and avoiding eye contact, I went back to the house, climbed up on the porch and sat down on a chair to remove my dirty boots.

And there she sat. Making eye contact. "Oh no," I repeated.  She ignored me. Instead she came straight up to me, put her paws in my lap and laid her ear right on my heart and stayed that away. God didn't exactly say, "This is your dog now," but the message was clear. I called out "Help" hoping my wife would come and take the decision away for me. She burst out the front door thinking I'd cut off a finger or something. When she saw the little tableau, the dog hugging me as though afraid to let go, she stopped short. My wife is very perceptive about spiritual things. She recognizes the hand of God when she sees it.

Did someone say breakfast?
"Do you think she'll eat tuna?" she asked.  In short order, the dog had been fed, scrubbed and washed and named Daisy (because she popped up out of a meadow like a flower).  Miss Mary Bob even contributed to her rescue and gave us $50 to pay for the cost of the vet so we could get started right with her. She went home with us that day and lived with us for the rest of her life.  She house-trained herself. She had one accident and I told her "NO, don't do that," and took her outside. After that, when she needed to go, she went to the door and asked to be let out. Never had another accident.  She was the smartest most good-natured dog I've ever known. She didn't seem to be able to bark. It was a year after we got her that I heard a dog barking in the house and wondered whose dog it was. It turned out it was Daisy. She was parking at an approaching UPS delivery guy.  She never barked except to warn us that someone was coming. If she knew the people or decided they were harmless, she never barked, reserving her wrath for UPS, FedEx, the postman or anyone else in uniform that approached the house with a little too much cheek.

When she was younger, I used to let her out a couple of times a day to run. She would go bounding through the woods and along the beach near out house like some kind of demented kangaroo. She'd come home, eyes sparkling and tongue hanging out with a big stupid old doggy grin on her face. She was a high class mooch who always demanded some offering from every plate of food we ate. She didn't bark or steal food off the table. She'd just sit there with those big sad eyes till one of us, usually my wife would crumble and give her something. I always put stuff on my plate that she could safely eat. Our sharing food with her made her feel like family.

And she was family. I used to make fun of old people who talked baby talk to their pets and doted over them like they were human. Over the short span of Daisy's, however, I found myself more and more talking just like that to her as she ever more endeared herself to our hearts.  She died suddenly on my birthday in April. We fought hard to save her. Christian and not-so-Christian friends donated nearly $1800 to pay for her veterinary bills. Sadly, in spite of our prayers and the prayers of literally hundreds of others, her health continued to deteriorate rapidly over the last couple of weeks. We went for our last walk as a family just three days before she died. My wife and I were and are devastated. We prayed as hard for that little dog as we do for our children. Once again it was a pitiful scene in the vet's office as we let her go. She died with her stuffed squirrel under her paw where she liked to have it at nap time. Her ashes are on top of my rolltop desk next to a vase with a fresh daisy in it.

Daisy in her Service Dog outfit.

Daisy got us through a lot of tough times over the past few years. She would come and get me if Sheila was having a panic attack and get up right beside her and offer Sheila a head to stroke until the terror subsided. She goaded me into taking longer and longer walks that have helped me gradually lose almost 30 pounds in the past few years. People have asked me if we rescued Daisy. I tell them, "No, Daisy rescued us." C.S. Lewis had an interesting notion about the Earth where we will spend eternity that I find hints of throughout scripture, especially in Isaiah. He believed that in the New Earth, we will find all the good things of the old Earth - that this life is something like a crucible in which the dross is burned out of us leaving behind the pure gold which he will then save. Lewis and I with him think of those things as the "real" things of Earth of which this is all but a shadow. I never met a more perfect dog than Daisy, although Suzy wasn't far behind and it wasn't as if she didn't try to be a perfect dog. If the shadow Daisy was that good, then what must the "real" Daisy, recreated by our loving Father be like?. I sometimes think that it is no accident that dog spelled backward is what it is. 
  • Dogs love us unconditionally. 
  • Dogs are always glad to see us.
  • Dogs forgive us easily and often.
  • Dogs want to spend time with us.
  • Dogs will die to defend you or protect you.
  • Dogs like Daisy are patient, loyal and do not give up on you.
Daisy and me - worship time.
Some of the more moribund of Christian theologians scoff at the idea of God resurrecting something so lowly as a dog. "They cannot choose to follow Christ, so they cannot be saved," they say. There is no baptism for dogs. These are also the same people who believe God will chicken fry little children in an ever-burning hell just because the pastor said "in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit" instead of "in Jesus name" over them when they were baptized. I don't hold much credence in such grim theology.

A creature, as perfectly lovely as our Daisy was, just shouldn't be lost. He who sees the sparrow fall and makes the lion to lie down with the lamb in peace, is, I am certain after my 44 year walk with Christ, surely able and willing to give us that which is good and pure and lovely. And I have met very little in this world as good and pure and lovely as our little Daisy.  God will surely not deny us good things. Jesus said he wouldn't. And while there may be a reason God let our furry baby go to her rest sooner than we wanted to in this world, I can think of no reason for him not to give her back to us in the next.

Daisy and I and Miss Sheila have a lot of exploring yet to do. It will be one of the great joys of eternal life for us to ramble the hills of our vast and perfect world. May he come soon. I know I have a lot of folk waiting up ahead in time for us to arrive at the moment of resurrection when we are all reunited. The we will look up and see Jesus coming in the clouds. The timing of that is His, not mine. For now I wait upon Him, trusting in His goodness and wisdom. I've got a couple of brothers, a son, my grandpa, and others - a whole crowd of loved ones I expect to see again at the last trumpet. I'll also be looking around for a couple of very happy hound dogs that will throw themselves into our arms, wagging their tails for joy.  That to me is the very essence of heaven and of heaven's kindly and loving Lord.

Wendy Francisco, whose husband wrote the song "He's alive!" wrote this little song that expresses my feelings about our doggy friends precisely. I sang it once for church and found I had tears running down my face by the time I got through it. A creature who inspires that kind of love and emotion in a human being, should have a place among the redeemed of Earth.

Just sayin'.

© 2016 by Tom King

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