Sunday, March 1, 2009

For dog-lovers

True or not, it's such a sweet story.

'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
bed room 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 Hebr ews 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
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.

1 comment:

Davielle aka Princess Magpie said...

OMG, Ann - I should have known better than to read such a beautiful story with a headache - OUCH. tears = more painful headache. Sheesh. but oh my, what a lovely story; and I agree. "true" or not, we've all been touched by that special dog - for me, it has been several - first DOUG at CCI, then our MOLLY shortly thereafter. and just last night, Celeste's handsome ASTA, retired from service, and whose eyes were just like gazing into DOUG's all over again. Deep. Kind. Shoot, Ann, I need a tissue. thx for posting this - D.