Rhett always seemed to know when I felt bad. He'd just lay beside me or sit quietly at my feet. He was always ready to go on a walk with me. We spent countless hours playing fetch together. And for the most part, he obeyed my every command. My favorite was when I'd holler, "KILL, RHETT, KILL!!" and he'd begin to furiously yet ever so playfully bark at my husband. Or I could say, "Rhett, give Dacey love," (he knew the kids each by name) and he'd chase her down until she was cornered and lick her mercilessly.
When I was eight months pregnant with Connor, I was awaken one morning after my husband had left for work with Rhett standing over me growling. It was not light yet, and I was a bit taken back as to why he was growling until I realized there was a bat resting on the wall above my head. Yes, my hero dog saved me, the child sleeping in bed with me, and my precious unborn baby from the wrath of a bat that had found its way into my bedroom. For that alone I will forever sing his praises.
Rhett had a silly side too. I remember one Christmas we were given a tin of popcorn that set on the floor in our bedroom. The tin was decorated with pictures of puppies on it, and no matter how many times Rhett walked around and saw that tin sitting there, each time he'd become afraid and bark, growl and dart across the room. Other times we'd walk by a mirror or sometimes just a window of a store, but if he saw his reflection in the glass he stood ready to take himself down should his reflection choose to charge or threaten the peace of his family.
When you're close to an animal and know them like I knew Rhett you can tell when some thing's not quite right. He was still playful but not as much so as normal. As time progressed I could tell his back legs were not as straight as they had once been. He began having great difficulty climbing stairs into the house and jumping on the bed. We tried several medications to relieve him of his pain, but realized in the end the best choice was to put him out of his suffering. It was such a hard decision to make. He was part of our family. I know we made the best decision for him, but I still miss him each and every day.
For months after we lost Rhett I would cry at the drop of a hat. If I saw a golden retriever on a commercial, I'd bawl like a baby. Once while in town I saw a friend's beautiful chocolate lab and had to excuse myself to hide my tears. People don't understand when you mourn the loss of a dog to that extent. But for four years Rhett was at my side. If I left the house, he went with me. When we visited friends and family away from home, he was always up for a road trip. When my husband would leave for work in the wee hours before daylight, Rhett was asleep at my feet keeping me warm. I've joked that I spent more time with him than my husband because Rhett never left. We were close. He knew me like a book.
In the months that followed losing Rhett several people offered me puppies. I declined each offer knowing that no other animal could replace Rhett. And I knew that when I did get ready to open my heart to another dog, it would have to be the right dog... not just one to fill the void. I knew that I would always love Golden Retrievers but didn't think I could handle going through hip dysplasia with one again. So when I did start looking for a pet, I made a list of what I wanted.
I wanted a dog that would be playful but would be just as content being a lap dog. Having had dogs that need constant grooming and up-keep, I knew that was not something I wanted to deal with. As a child "Lady and the Tramp" had always been my favorite Disney movie. (It still is.) I liked the looks and the size of the Cocker Spaniel, and started reading about their personality. The breed seemed like an obvious choice for our family. They are known for their "merry spirit" and that they enjoy being part of a family.
Then on the very first day that I decided I would start actively looking for a new friend, I found an ad that read: "AKC Cocker Spaniel puppies." I called to inquire and found that they had four left. We agreed to meet within the hour. We pulled into the breeders drive that evening and were greeted by four precious, pouncing Cocker Spaniel puppies. There were two boys and two girls. The little blonde girl caught my eye. One of the first things I noticed about the pooch that was to win my heart was that she was overwhelmingly shy. I knew that was not a quality that would be useful for her to be a therapy dog were she to be added to our family, but I wasn't concerned about her providing therapy for anyone but me. (And that she has done and done well.)
We brought Bella Rose home in August. In the six months that have passed she has proved a faithful companion. She is in my lap as I type. While she is still a bit shy, she does enjoy visiting the nursing home with our family from time to time. We always love to doll her up with bows in her hair, cute collars, bandanas, or dresses. My daughter, Dacey, often dresses to match Bella Rose when we take her to visit. The residents always seem to appreciate the effort and are always tickled at her cuteness.
My husband still has his beautiful Golden Retriever, Scarlet. But Bella Rose is all mine. I will never forget my Rhett, but Bella Rose has helped my heart to heal in the time that she has been here.
I am thankful for the friendship and companionship that God has allowed us humans through dogs. They do not judge us as we so often do to one another. Dogs do not have false intentions in pursuing a relationship with you. They just want to love and to be loved back.
I leave you with Elisabeth Elliot's thoughts on the passing of her dog, MacDuff.
"It is a late October morning of glorious sunshine in New Hampshire and I
sit in an antique rocking chair by the window of an old house which was
once a barn. The gray rocks on Mount Lafayette's broad summit are dusted
with snow, and the sky is as blue as a sky can be. All that is still green
today is the evergreens. Between them are the black line drawings of the
thin leafless maples, wild cherries, aspens and birches. The feathery
tamaracks are dark gold. Little yellow apples hang on one of the gnarled
old trees of the orchard. I keep hoping a deer will come for them.
My friend Miriam and I drove up yesterday from Boston for a few days of
quiet at my brother's place. Both of us brought a load of desk work. No
one else is here except Daisy, Miriam's new friend, a little white
Pekingese. (Her old friend, Pity Sing, died a few weeks ago.)
MacDuff, my six-year-old Scottish terrier, is not here this time either.
We went for a short climb yesterday afternoon, up a rocky wooded trail
that he used to love. He would race after the chattering chipmunks, bound
up the steep granite slabs, and wait, panting, at the top for us to catch
up. I missed him yesterday on that trail. I miss him today when I look out
of the window.
MacDuff died of cancer last week. I knew he was sick during the summer
when his routines changed. He sat in the middle of the back yard one
morning, instead of in his usual place by the fence, looking bewildered
instead of in charge. One rainy day he was not on his chair in the
screened porch, but I found him lying in a hollow place under a bush. He
no longer leaped for his Milk-Bone at the breakfast table. But he kept his
ears and tail up, and thus kept my hopes up.
The vet said he had an infection and gave us pills. MacDuff got very cagey
at detecting where those pills had been hidden in his food, so I had to
try ever sneakier methods of getting them into him. They worked fine. He
was well again--for a while faithfully putting in his self-appointed
barking time each day, letting neighbor dogs know who was in charge, and
keeping off trespassers, some of whom must have been demons since none of
us humans could see them.
But I saw that he was losing weight. I could feel the shoulder blades and
spine through his heavy, ragged coat. I bought new kinds of dog food,
special hamburger, yogurt. He was apologetic when he couldn't eat it, his
eyes limpid with a plea for understanding, his stiff brush-tail quivering
"Little Duffer, little black dog--could you try this?" I would ask,
offering some tidbit that would surely be irresistible. He would lift his
black nose, take it slowly and delicately in his teeth, hold it for a
moment hoping I would look away, and then place it on the floor as
tactfully as he could. He did not want to disappoint me.
His suffering was a hard thing to watch. He was alone in it, as all
creatures, human or animal, are alone in their pain. "The toad beneath the
harrow knows exactly where each sharp tooth goes." There is no qualitative
or quantitative measurement for pain. It is simply there sharp or dull,
shooting or stabbing, bearable or excruciating, local or general, it is
unexplained, uninvited, unavoidable. It takes command. It is
all-encompassing, implacable, exigent. But of course I am speaking only of
what I know of pain. How was it for MacDuff?
He expected no special treatment. He did not pity himself. He took for
granted that he would be able to go on about his accustomed terrier
business and when he found that it was somehow not working well, he made
his own adjustments as unobtrusively as he could. It was still the supreme
object of his life to see that I was happy. I think he lay under the bush
in the rain not in order to wallow in solitary self-pity, but in order
that I might not see him in trouble. He liked to please me. He delighted
to do my will.
Is animal suffering different from human suffering? I hope so. Animals
surely must not suffer the agonies of anxiety which accompany much human
pain. "How shall I carry out my duties? What am I to do if this doesn't
clear up quickly? Can I bear it if it gets worse?" The element of time is
not a philosophical torment to them. They live as we have to be told to
live--one day at a time, trustfully. I don't know whether it is accurate
to say that "faith" is required of them, but if it is, they fulfill the
requirement perfectly. They look to God, the Psalmist tells us, for
provision for their needs. They are watched over and cared for by a kind
Father. Not the least sparrow falls without his notice. Surely MacDuff was
of more value than many sparrows!
I watched him try to lie down on his side, but something obstructed his
breathing. When he was asleep he would begin to pant and would waken to
change his position, sometimes with little muffled groans. This
fellow-creature, I thought, formed by the Hand that formed me, suffers for
my sin--for I am of the race of men who brought evil into the world, and
without evil there could be no pain, no death. A Scotty would not have had
His wonderful face bearded, with tufts of eyebrows springing and black
eyes shining--had reminded me of George MacDonald's belief that dogs
always behold the face of the Father. MacDuff knew things--what did he
know? What were the mysteries he saw--too deep or too high or too pure
for me to be entrusted with yet? I think they helped him endure the pain.
He was not bewildered, of course, by the questions that needle my
mind--the origin of evil, God's permission of an animal's or a child's
suffering. He was a dog, and to ponder such questions was not required of
him. What was required of him he did, in an authentically, thoroughly
I will not weep more for him. I will be thankful for such a gift of grace.
He was, I am sure, "assigned" to me. In the sorrow of my late husband's
illness, when life seemed a desolate wasteland, MacDuff was there. Jesus,
the Bible tells us, during his temptation in the wilderness, was "with the
wild beasts." I used to think of that phrase as descriptive of one of the
elements of his dereliction, but it may be that the wild beasts, like the
angels, ministered to him. Is it mere sentimentality to believe that? Is
it too much to say that Duffer "ministered" to me? He did. He was my
little wild beast in that wilderness.
The Bible does not speak specifically of the destiny of animals but there
is a promise in the Letter to the Ephesians which surely must include
them, "Everything that exists in heaven or earth shall find its perfection
and fulfillment in Christ" (Eph. 1:10 Phillips).
Paul expresses his hope in the eighth chapter of Romans (verse 21
Phillips) "that in the end the whole of created life will be rescued from
the tyranny of change and decay, and have its share in that magnificent
liberty which can only belong to the children of God!"
CopyrightÂ© 1979, by Elisabeth Elliot
all rights reserved.