God’s Greatest Gift

i282600889621132376._szw1280h1280_At some point in history mankind domesticated certain animals. Since then dogs, cats, ponies and other pets have proven to be as loyal as any really good friend might be. We bring these creatures into our homes and they give us love and comfort. They follow us around, entertain us, and snuggle in our laps. They become as attached to us as we are to them. The bond between humans and their furry friends is strong. 

I still remember a stray dog named Whitey that got my family through the first sad days after my father died. He gave us the gift of his company and made us feel a bit safer than we might otherwise have. He would ultimately leave us perhaps to return to his real owner or maybe to bring joy to someone else who needed it. We would later adopt a collie named Buddy who grew old even as we developed into adults. Buddy was as good a dog as the television star Lassie. He was gentle and loving but if he thought that someone was a threat to us he became ferocious. We loved him so as did our neighbors. He learned how to climb our chain link fence and often took strolls around the area. He always found his way back home at night. He never once abandoned us. When his muzzle grew gray and his gait became slow he stayed put all of the time. One day his heart became weak. We had to carry him to the vet who had cared for him for years. We knew even before we heard the diagnosis that he was not going to come home with us. A kind of sadness descended on our household with his death. He had been the man of the house in many ways. He had watched over us as faithfully as a father might have. He made us feel happy and secure.

When I married and moved into my first home I decided that I wanted a cat. I had always thought that kittens were so adorable. We found a little one that we called Peewee. He slept with my eldest daughter every single night, just purring away. He was a real sweetheart. It wasn’t long before my girl began to get sick over and over again, developing ear infections that began to affect her hearing. The doctors worked with me in an attempt to discover what was causing her chronic problems. I told them everything that she ate and outlined each minute of her day from the time that she woke up until she went to sleep with Peewee in her arms. It was when I mentioned the cat that the doctor’s ears perked up. He ran a test and learned that Maryellen was highly allergic to cat dander. We had to say goodbye to our little friend.

We ultimately settled on getting a golden retriever. Our little girl was named Red because of her ginger colored coat. She was as sweet and smart as Buddy had once been. She was a gentle giant who at first scared my two girls. Eventually they realized that she would never hurt them or anybody else for that matter. Nonetheless she was an amazing watch dog and birder. She used to proudly place her hunting trophies by the children’s swing set to let us know that she was remarkable in every way. She took my daughters all the way through their childhood. It was not until the eldest was away at college and the youngest was in high school that she began to show signs of becoming frail. Still she reached the remarkable age of fourteen before she finally had no more to give. I lay on the floor petting her all night long on her last day on earth. If I stopped touching her for even a second she would cry. I had to leave her to be at my teaching job while Mike took her to be put to sleep. It was so hard for all of us. I felt as though there was a huge boulder inside my body. It was not until the evening that I was able to cry and then I couldn’t stop.

Eventually the girls talked me and Mike into getting another golden retriever. We called her Scarlet in Red’s honor. She was friskier and a bit less bright than Red but a good girl nonetheless. Our daughters left home when Scarlet was in her middle ages and she became very much an old person kind of dog, at least until Catherine moved home again to plan her wedding and brought a puppy named Maggie with her. The two dogs bonded immediately and Maggie seemed to bring new life to Scarlet who mothered the little pup as though she were her own. Scarlet was quite old when we moved from the only home that she had ever known. She was diagnosed with cancer and we spent a small fortune treating her in the hopes of finding a cure but none was meant to be. One morning I found her curled up on the kitchen floor crying. She had fouled herself and she looked at me with such pain in her eyes. It once again fell to Mike to carry out her final moments. We were brokenhearted once again and have yet to find the courage to get another dog.

These days we babysit our grand dogs. We have four of them, a golden retriever named Shane, a pug named Cooper, a collie named Hermione, and a Pomeranian named Lucy. Shane and Hermione are elegant and highly intelligent. Cooper and Lucy are adorable and full of love. All of them seem to enjoy their visits to our home, especially Cooper who only recently spent several days with us. Sweet Maggie who had been our Scarlet’s adopted pup died not long ago. I happened to be present when she left us. I was as torn up as I had been with all of my pets. She was quite special.

Our pets are members of the family. Their loyalty and love is unconditional. They bring such joy and ask for very little in return. It is quite unfortunate that their life spans are so short relative to ours. We find ourselves losing them long before we are ready. Their deaths fill us with sadness and emptiness just as though they were people. 

On Easter Sunday my sister-in-law Allison lost her devoted dog Captain. He was as wonderful as any dog that I have ever met. In the short time that I knew him I had grown to care for him. He watched over his domain and loved his mistress fiercely. I know how devastated she is. Even though she had known that his end was near he had seemed somehow better and had lasted longer than his doctor had predicted. We had all hoped that he would somehow recover and remain at his post much longer. It was a terrible thing that he left Allison on Easter Sunday, a day that she had thought would be a gloriously happy one. Instead she had a difficult time being with us. I suppose that she really just wanted to go home and cry.

My mother-in-law once quite sincerely stated that if our dogs were not in heaven she wasn’t sure that she wanted to be there. Since we are told that we find perfect happiness in our eternal home I have to believe that our dogs and cats and other creatures will be there waiting for us when it becomes our turn to leave this earthly home. I know that one day I will see Whitey, Red, Scarlet, Maggie and even Captain. They will be young and beautiful and happy dogs who have been waiting patiently for us. They earned their angel wings when they were here with us and they will be there when we get ours. 

I wish that I had some power to ease the pain of those who lose their pets. I know that there is little that I might do other than give a hug. It takes time for the hurt to go away and even after years have passed we remember those wonderful creatures who were one of God’s most wonderful creations. Luckily the day eventually comes when the tears turn to fond memories.

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