Sunday, February 23, 2014

Tribute to the Graveyard Dog

Once upon a time, 10 years ago, a sealed up cardboard box was left in a local graveyard behind a church.  The box was opened to reveal a litter of puppies and the preacher of the church stood in his pulpit and asked his congregation who would step up and adopt these puppies. Slowly, one by one, the puppies were adopted, down to one final puppy, a tiny black and white boy.  My youngest daughter, who was 7 at the time, got wind of this situation through friends at school telling the story and thus began her campaign for this puppy.  That night she told us the story and said, "Will you go get that puppy?  I want that puppy with the small head"  (I have to say at this point that she had begged for a "dog with a small head" for a couple of years by that time and we had, through her descriptions, determined that she meant a small dog....not just his head being small!) We said no.  We already had a dog and really didn't need or desire a second one.  But the reign of terror that a small girl can heap on you can be staggering!  For several days she would ask first thing in the morning, call me from school, state her case all afternoon and again at bedtime.  Finally, on that Friday, I happened to be close to the church so I stopped in "just to look" at the puppy with the small head.  He was so tiny and although he looked like a beagle mix, I thought he would be a very small dog.  Little did I know!  He was sweet and cute and I, of course, couldn't resist.  So I took him home and when my daughter, burst through the door that afternoon, she somehow knew without my having told her.  "Where is he? Where is he?", she shouted!

Of course, he grew.  He finally ended his growing at almost 50 lbs.  So he was no longer a dog with a small head, but we loved him anyway.

Over time we started to notice that he smelled bad....really bad!  We tried everything we could get our hands on:  Prednisone, Coconut Oil, Tea Tree Oil, changes in food, some sort of drops from the pet supply store.  After a few years, we just gave up and let him stink.  Not that we wanted to give up, we just didn't know what else to do since nothing worked.  I often wondered if he could smell himself!

His personality was often a science experiment.  You just never knew what to expect!  He was very loving, but at the same time, very solitary.  He had a kennel on the front porch and one inside the house and he spent a lot of time in them, peering out and watching the world go by.  He never barked at the UPS man or anyone coming to visit.  We would bring him in often in the evenings but we found that he simply could not relax.  He would sit very upright and stare at you....and stare at you....and stare at you....and slowly blink one eye.  The girls would often say "He smells like the pits of hell and stares into your soul"!!!

But he did love to be loved.  He was exceptionally well behaved, would come instantly when you called and if you said "no" to anything at all, he would screech to a halt to wait for you to tell him what he should be doing.

He had three favorite things in the whole world:  Bailey, a fire in the fireplace and going for walks.  He knew the precise time that walking happened and he was filled with a joy that would just fill your heart.  We never put him on a leash to walk, he would bound ahead of us running crazily and chasing rabbits and squirrels and the occasional cat...although he actually liked (and feared!) cats.  But he would come instantly if we called him back.  His only weakness on walks was his love of chasing cars.  He seemed to feel that it was sport and we worried greatly when he did it.  But we live in a small dead end neighborhood in the country so it wasn't a big issue.

So a couple of weeks ago when he had a bloody spot in his eye and was just acting "off", I took him to the vet who thought that he had had "some sort of trauma", we suspected maybe a collision with a car since we knew his love of chase.  He got better quickly.  But then on Monday morning, he didn't respond when I called him to go outside so I went to him.  He was in his inside kennel but did not seem to hear me when I called, so I touched him and he jumped up.  At first I laughed because I just thought I has disrupted his dreaming but when he came out, he staggered and fell and could not get back up.  I lifted all 50 lbs of him (with my bad back) and rushed him to the vet.  As it turned out, he had never been hit by a car, our vet now thinks he had been having a series of mini-strokes....and this one had been too much for him to recover from.  I held him and cried into his stinky fur while he made the journey over the rainbow bridge.

I tell this entire story, not as a sad story but as a reminder that all of God's creatures are here for a reason.  We learned so much patience and tolerance from our Graveyard Dog.  I strongly feel that had we not been the family to adopt him in the very beginning, he would have had a very short life.  Mainly because I'm sure a lot of people would have taken him to the pound because of his stink and oddness.  That is not to say that I didn't consider finding him a new home in the early years.  But ultimately, I just couldn't do that to him.  We were all he had ever known outside a cardboard box.  We enriched his life and he returned the favor, many times over.

So when you decide to get a dog, first try the shelters.  You might just find a companion who needs you as much as you need him.  And remember, don't give up.  An animal is a commitment, through thick and thin and even the challenging ones have value.  We will miss you, dear, sweet Sam.  I know you will be waiting for us on the other side of the Rainbow Bridge.