A Big Lesson from a Little Dog

We live on one of the busiest streets in town. This provides endless entertainment for my three-year-old, who goes running to the door to watch every ambulance that passes, and for our dog, who always has something to watch from his perch atop the back of our couch, looking out the picture window.

We learned early that this is no place to have outdoor pets, as we lost our dear cat, Pepper, within months of living here.

A few days ago, my son and my dog were excitedly telling me they saw something unusual in the street. I peeked out with them to see a little rat terrier wandering lethargically down the middle of the street, cars swerving and honking.

Being the bleeding heart animal lover that I am, I couldn’t stand by while the poor thing became road kill. So I ran out to the sidewalk in my pajamas and tried to coax the dog off the road. She just continued her slow death march until a truck stopped in the street, which allowed me to run out and encourage her to safety.

At this point, my husband came out of the house and helped me corral her into our fenced yard.

When we got a better look at her, we saw she was old, with grey hair, cloudy eyes, dull senses. Her joints seemed stiff, her claws were a mile long, there was a raw spot on her rump, and the skin on her belly was covered in some kind of rash. I was horrified and immediately took her to the vet, where they cleaned her up and sent me home with several medications and a warning that she has a severe heart murmur which could cause congestive heart failure any day. Or, she could live several more years. There’s no way of knowing.

So, the old girl (who I’ve named “Sweetie”) has spent the last few days in our kitchen, recovering and getting lots of love from the humans who rescued her.

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I feel pain every time I look into her sweet, trusting little face, knowing she won’t last long. Knowing that I’ll have to give her up if someone wants to adopt her. We’ve got enough things to juggle without a fragile old dog suffering from bladder control issues.

My instinct is to stay away; to not allow myself to get attached. To save myself the pain of loving something that will leave me.

In the face of fear, uncertainty, loss, to love can be an act of courage. C.S. Lewis said it well:

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”

So… I sit on the kitchen floor and let her nuzzle her face under my arm. I give her a name and her medicine and Adam gets her a collar and chew treats. She lays on a pillow; recovering and possibly deteriorating at the same time. I look at her and wonder how I will explain her passing to my son… It would be his first experience with death. How much easier it would have been to shoo him away from the window that day and just pray the little dog on the street made it to safety. How much easier it would be to take Sweetie to the pound and tell Ethan she’s gone to a new home.

But, we will love. We will be vulnerable. We will give knowing what we will receive as a result will mostly be pain.

This is what gives life depth. The darkness in life is what makes the bright even brighter. With thanksgiving, or at least trust, we can walk through shadow valleys knowing the sun still shines radiant on days ahead.

Yes, this is all over a silly little dog, but sometimes the smallest things can remind us of big truth.

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