A Dog Is Forever

Painting of photograph taken of Golden Retriever and Fireman working the scene of 9-1-1. To me, they are both looking directly into one another's souls. They were partners through tragedy. One can only imagine the depth of feelings between the two. AKC granted permission to me to use this photo. It was on the cover of the AKC Gazette, September 2002.

“HOW COULD YOU?” by Jim Willis 2001

When I was a puppy, I entertained you with my antics and made you laugh. You called me your child, and despite a number of chewed shoes and a couple of murdered throw pillows, I became your best friend. Whenever I was “bad”, you’d shake your finger at me and ask “How could you?”…but then you’d relent, and roll me over for a belly rub. My housebreaking took a little longer than expected, because you were terribly busy, but we worked on that together. I remember those nights of nuzzling you in bed and listening to your confidences and secret dreams, and I believed that life could not be anymore perfect. We went for long walks and runs in the park, car rides, stops for ice cream (I only got the cone because “Ice cream is bad for dogs,” you said, and I took long naps in the sun waiting for you to come home at the end of the day. Gradually, you began spending more time at work and on your career, and more time searching for a human mate. I waited for you patiently, comforted you through heartbreaks and disappointments, never chided you about bad decisions, and romped with glee at your homecomings, and when you fell in love. She, now your wife, is not a “dog person”….still I welcomed her into our home, tried to show her affection, and obeyed her. I was happy because you were happy. Then the human babies came along, and I shared your excitement. I was fascinated by their pinkness, how they smelled, and I wanted to mother them, too. Only she and you worried that I might hurt them, and I spent most of my time banished to another room, or to a dog crate. Oh, how I wanted to love them, but I became a “prisoner of love.”

As they began to grow, I became their friend. They clung to my fur and pulled themselves up on wobbly legs, poked fingers in my eyes, investigated my ears, and gave me kisses on my nose. I loved everything about them and their touch ….because your touch was now so infrequent…and I would have defended them with my life if need be. I would sneak into their beds and listen to their worries and secret dreams, and together we waited for the sound of your car in the driveway. There had been a time, when others asked you if you had a dog, that you produced a photo of me from your wallet and told them stories about me. These past few years, you just answered “yes” and changed the subject. I had gone from being “your dog” to “just a dog,” and you resented every expenditure on my behalf.

Now, you have a new career opportunity in another city, and you and they will be moving to an apartment that does not allow pets. You’ve made the right decision for your “family,” but there was a time when I was your only family. I was excited about the car ride until we arrived at the animal shelter. It smelled of dogs and cats, of fear, of hopelessness. You filled out the paperwork and said, “I know you will find a good home for her.” They shrugged and gave you a pained look. They understand the realities facing a middle-aged dog, even one with “papers.” You had to pry your son’s fingers loose from my collar as he screamed, “No Daddy! Please don’t let them take my dog!” And I worried for him, and what lessons you had just taught him about friendship and loyalty, about love, and responsibility, and about respect for all life. You gave me a good-bye pat on the head, avoided my eyes, and politely refused to take my collar and leash with you. You had a deadline to meet, and now I have one, too. After you left, the two nice ladies said you probably knew about your upcoming move months ago, and made no attempt to find me another good home. They shook their heads and asked, “How could you?” They are as attentive to us here in the shelter as their busy schedules allow. They feed us, of course, but I lost my appetite days ago. At first whenever anyone passed my pen, I rushed to the front, hoping it was you, that you had changed your mind….that this was all a bad dream…or I hoped it would at least be someone who cared, anyone who might save me. When I realized I could not compete with the frolicking for attention of happy puppies, oblivious to their own fate, I retreated to a far corner, and waited. I heard her footsteps as she came for me at the end of the day, and I padded along the isle after her to a separate room, a blissfully quiet room. She placed me on the table and rubbed my ears, and told me not to worry. My heart pounded in anticipation of what was to come, but there was also a sense of relief. The prisoner of love had run out of days. As is my nature, I was more concerned about her. The burden which she bears weighs heavily on her, and I know that, the same way I knew your every mood. She gently placed a tourniquet around my foreleg as a tear ran down her cheek. I licked her hand in the same way I used to comfort you so many years ago. She expertly slid the hypodermic needle into my vein. As I felt the sting and the cool liquid coursing through my body, I lay down sleepily, looked into her kind eyes and murmured, “How could you?” Perhaps because she understood my dogspeak, she said, “I’m so sorry.” She hugged me, and hurriedly explained it was her job to make sure I went to a better place, where I wouldn’t be ignored or abused or abandoned, or have to fend for myself…a place of love and light so very different from this earthly place. And with my last bit of energy, I tried to convey to her with a thump of my tail that my, “How could you?” was not directed at her. It was you, My Beloved Master, I was thinking of. I will think of you, and wait for you forever. May everyone in your life continue to show you so much loyalty.

The above, is a composite story of the millions of formerly owned pets who die each year in American and Canadian animal shelters. I place this story here on my website to encourage you, as a person contemplating dog ownership, to consider it a serious, and lifelong commitment. If some unforeseen event should occur in your life, that renders you unable to keep your dog, then as the breeder, I will always take this dog back. Together, you and I can find your dog a new, and wonderful home. A Dog Is Forever, a faithful and loyal companion and soul partner, a true gift from God that is never to be discarded or treated lightheartedly.

Read the brief story below and find out how one dog made a difference in many people’s lives.

“Watch out! You nearly broad sided that car!’ My father yelled at me. ‘Can’t you do anything right?’ Those words hurt worse than blows. I turned my head toward the elderly man in the seat beside me, daring me to challenge him. A lump rose in my throat as I averted my eyes. I wasn’t prepared for another battle. ‘I saw the car, Dad. Please don’t yell at me when I’m driving.’ My voice was measured and steady, sounding far calmer than I really felt. Dad glared at me, then turned away and settled back.

At home I left Dad in front of the television and went outside to collect my thoughts. Dark, heavy clouds hung in the air with a promise of rain. The rumble of distant thunder seemed to echo my inner turmoil. What could I do about him? Dad had been a lumberjack in Washington and Oregon. He had enjoyed being outdoors and had reveled in pitting his strength against the forces of nature. He had entered grueling lumberjack competitions, and had placed often.

The shelves in his house were filled with trophies that attested to his prowess.
The years marched on relentlessly. The first time he couldn’t lift a heavy log, he joked about it; but later that same day I saw him outside alone, straining to lift it. He became irritable whenever anyone teased him about his advancing age, or when he couldn’t do something he had done as a younger man.

Four days after his sixty-seventh birthday, he had a heart attack. An ambulance sped him to
the hospital while a paramedic administered CPR to keep blood and oxygen flowing. At the hospital, Dad was rushed into an operating room. He was lucky; he survived.
But something inside Dad died. His zest for life was gone. He obstinately refused to follow
doctor’s orders. Suggestions and offers of help were turned aside with sarcasm and insults. The number of visitors thinned, then finally stopped altogether. Dad was left alone.

My husband, Dick, and I asked Dad to come live with us on our small farm. We hoped the fresh air and rustic atmosphere would help him adjust. Within a week after he moved in, I regretted the invitation. It seemed nothing was satisfactory. He criticized everything I did. I became frustrated and moody. Soon I was taking my pent-up anger out on Dick. We began to bicker and argue. Alarmed, Dick sought out our pastor and explained the situation. The Clergyman set up weekly counseling appointments for us. At the close of each session he prayed, asking God to soothe Dad’s troubled mind. But the months wore on and God was silent. Something had to be done and it was up to me to do it.

The next day I sat down with the phone book and methodically called each of the mental health clinics listed in the Yellow Pages. I explained my problem to each of the sympathetic voices that answered. in vain. Just when I was giving up hope, one of the voices suddenly exclaimed, ‘I just read something that might help you! Let me go get the article.’ I listened as she read. The article described a remarkable study done at a nursing home. All of the patients were under treatment for chronic depression. Yet their attitudes had improved dramatically when they were given responsibility for a dog.

I drove to the animal shelter that afternoon. After I filled out a questionnaire, a uniformed officer led me to the kennels. The odor of disinfectant stung my nostrils as I moved down the row of pens. Each contained five to seven dogs. long-haired dogs, curly-haired dogs, black dogs, spotted dogs all jumped up, trying to reach me. I studied each one but rejected one after the other for various reasons, too big, too small, too much hair. As I neared the last pen a dog in the shadows of the far corner struggled to his feet, walked to the front of the run and sat down. It was a pointer, one of the dog world’s aristocrats. But this was a caricature of the breed. Years had etched his face and muzzle with shades of gray. His hipbones jutted out in lopsided triangles. But it was his eyes that caught and held my attention. Calm and clear, they beheld me unwaveringly. I pointed to the dog. ‘Can you tell me about him?’ The officer looked, then shook his head in puzzlement. ‘He’s a funny one. Appeared out of nowhere and sat in front of the gate. We brought him in, figuring someone would be right down to claim him, that was two weeks ago and we’ve heard nothing. His time is up tomorrow.’ He gestured helplessly. As the words sank in I turned to the man in horror. ‘You mean you’re going to kill him?’ ‘Ma’am: he said gently, ‘That’s our policy. We don’t have room for every unclaimed dog.’ I looked at the pointer again. The calm brown eyes awaited my decision. ‘I’ll take him,’ I said.

I drove home with the dog on the front seat beside me. When I reached the house I honked the horn twice. I was helping my prize out of the car when Dad shuffled onto the front porch. ‘Ta-da! Look what I got for you, Dad!’ I said excitedly. Dad looked, then wrinkled his face in disgust. ‘If I had wanted a dog I would have gotten one. And I would have picked out a better specimen than that bag of bones. Keep it! I don’t want it’ Dad waved his arm scornfully and turned back toward the house. Anger rose inside me.. It squeezed together my throat muscles and pounded into my temples. ‘You’d better get used to him, Dad. He’s staying!’ Dad ignored me. ‘Did you hear me, Dad?’ I screamed.

At those words Dad whirled angrily, his hands clenched at his sides, his eyes narrowed and blazing with hate. We stood glaring at each other like duelists, when suddenly the pointer pulled free from my grasp. He wobbled toward my dad and sat down in front of him. Then slowly, carefully, he raised his paw. Dad’s lower jaw trembled as he stared at the uplifted paw. Confusion replaced the anger in his eyes. The pointer waited patiently. Then Dad was on his knees hugging the animal. It was the beginning of a warm and intimate friendship. Dad named the pointer Cheyenne. Together he and Cheyenne explored the community. They spent long hours walking down dusty lanes. They spent reflective moments on the banks of streams, angling for tasty trout. They even started to attend Sunday services together, Dad sitting in a pew and Cheyenne lying quietly at his feet.

Dad and Cheyenne were inseparable throughout the next three years. Dad’s bitterness faded,
and he and Cheyenne made many friends. Then late one night I was startled to feel Cheyenne’s cold nose burrowing through our bed covers. He had never before come into our bedroom at night. I woke Dick, put on my robe and ran into my father’s room. Dad lay in his bed, his face serene. But his spirit had left quietly sometime during the night.

Two days later my shock and grief deepened when I discovered Cheyenne lying dead beside
Dad’s bed. I wrapped his still form in the rag rug he had slept on. As Dick and I buried him near a favorite fishing hole, I silently thanked the dog for the help he had given me in restoring Dad’s peace of mind.

The morning of Dad’s funeral dawned overcast and dreary. This day looks like the way I feel, I thought, as I walked down the aisle to the pews reserved for family. I was surprised to see the many friends Dad and Cheyenne had made filling the church. The pastor began his eulogy. It was a tribute to both Dad and the dog who had changed his life. And then the pastor turned to Hebrews 13:2. ‘Be not forgetful to entertain strangers. ‘ ‘I’ve often thanked God for sending that angel.” he said.

For me, the past dropped into place, completing a puzzle that I had not seen before: the
sympathetic voice that had just read the right article. Cheyenne’s unexpected appearance at the animal shelter .. his calm acceptance and complete devotion to my father .. and the proximity of their deaths. And suddenly I understood. I knew that God had
answered my prayers after all.

Life is too short for drama & petty things, so laugh hard, love truly and forgive quickly.
Live While You Are Alive.
Tell the people you love that you love them, at every opportunity.
Forgive now those who made you cry. You might not get a second time.
Remember that Angels can come in many forms and be thankful for them.