2: Love Makes Us Whole

2: Love Makes Us Whole

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Loving Our Dogs

Love Makes Us Whole

Where there is great love there are always miracles.

~Willa Cather

We got him with the other animals when we purchased the farm. Not that we wanted the black, shaggy mongrel. We had our hearts set on a collie—a pup we could train for the farm and as a companion for five-year-old Tim. But when the former owners informed us he was part of the deal, we resigned ourselves to keeping him. Temporarily, we thought, just until we can find him another home.

But the big dog apparently considered the farm his permanent responsibility. Each dawn, he inspected the animals and the farm buildings. Then he made a complete circuit of the entire eighty acres. That finished, he bounded across the sloping fields to slip beneath the fence for a visit with old Mr. Jolliff, who lived near a brook at the farm’s edge.

The dog—we learned from Mr. Jolliff that his name was Inky—was pensive and aloof those first weeks. Grieving for his former masters, Inky asked no affection; busy settling in, we offered none. Except Tim, who sat by the hour on the back steps, talking softly to the unresponsive animal. Then, one morning, Inky crept close and laid his head in the boy’s lap. And before we knew it, he had become Tim’s second shadow.

All that summer the boy and the dog romped through fields and roamed the woods, discovering fox dens and groundhog burrows. Each day, they brought back treasures to share.

“Mom, we’re home!” Tim would shout, holding the screen door wide for Inky. “Come see what we’ve got!” He’d dig deep in his jeans and spread the contents on the kitchen table: a pheasant’s feather; wilted buttercups with petals like wet paint; stones from the brook that magically regained their colors when he licked them.

September arrived all too soon, bringing with it school for Tim and Carl, my schoolteacher husband, and lonely days for Inky and me. Previously, I’d paid little attention to the dog. Now he went with me to the mailbox, to the chicken coop, and down the lane when I visited Mr. Jolliff.

“Why didn’t they want to take Inky?” I asked Mr. Jolliff one afternoon.

“And shut him up in a city apartment?” Mr. Jolliff replied. “Inky’s a farm dog; he’d die in the city. Besides, you’re lucky to have him.”

Lucky? I thought ruefully of holes dug in the lawn, of freshly washed sheets ripped from the clothesline. I thought, too, of litter dumped on the back porch: old bones, discarded boots, long-dead rodents.

Still, I had to admit that Inky was a good farm dog. We learned this in early spring when his insistent barking alerted us to a ewe, about to lamb, lying on her broad back in a furrow, unable to rise. Without Inky’s warning, she’d have died. And he had an uncanny way of knowing when roving dogs threatened the flock, or when sheep went astray.

Inky’s deepest affection was reserved for Tim. Each afternoon when the school bus lumbered down the road, Inky ran joyously to meet it. For Inky—and for Tim—this was the high point of the day.

One mid-October day when I had been in town, Tim rode home with me after school. He was instantly alarmed when Inky wasn’t waiting for us by the driveway.

“Don’t worry, Tim,” I said. “Inky always expects you on the bus, and we’re early. Maybe he’s back by the woods.”

Tim ran down the lane, calling and calling. While I waited for him to return, I looked around the yard. Its emptiness was eerie.

Suddenly I, too, was alarmed. With Tim close behind me, I ran down to the barn. We pushed the heavy doors apart and searched the dim coolness. Nothing. Then, as we were about to leave, a faint whimper came from the far corner of a horse stall. There we found him, swaying slightly on three legs, his pain-dulled eyes pleading for help. Even in the half-light I saw that one back leg hung limp, the bone partially severed. With a little moan, Tim ran to Inky and buried his face in the dog’s neck.

By the time the vet arrived, Carl was home. We placed the dog on his blanket and gently lifted him into the pet ambulance. Inky whimpered, and Tim started to cry.

“Don’t worry, son,” the vet said. “He’s got a good chance.” But his eyes told a different story.

At Tim’s bedtime, I took him upstairs and heard his prayers. He finished and looked up. “Will Inky be home tomorrow?”

“Not tomorrow, Tim. He’s hurt pretty bad.”

“You tell me that doctors make people well. Doesn’t that mean dogs, too?”

I looked out across the fields flooded with amber light. How do you tell a little boy that his dog must either die or be crippled? “Yes, Tim,” I said at last. “I guess that means dogs, too.” I tucked in his blanket and went downstairs.

I tossed a sweater over my shoulders and told Carl, “I’m going down to Mr. Jolliff’s. Maybe he’ll know what happened.”

I found the old man sitting at his kitchen table in the fading light. He drew up another chair and poured coffee.

Somehow I couldn’t talk about the dog. Instead, I asked, “Do you know if anyone was cutting weeds around here today?”

“Seems to me I heard a tractor down along the brook this morning,” Mr. Jolliff replied. “Why?” He looked at me. “Did something happen?”

“Yes,” I said, and the words were tight in my throat. “Inky’s back leg’s nearly cut off. The vet came for him....” I wanted to say more, but couldn’t. “It’s growing dark,” I finally murmured. “I’d better head home.”

Mr. Jolliff followed me into the yard. “About Inky,” he said hesitantly, “if he lives, I’d give him a chance. He’ll still have you folks and Tim, the farm and the animals. Everything he loves. Life’s pretty precious... especially where there’s love.”

“Yes,” I said, “but if he loses a leg, will love make up for being crippled?”

He said something I didn’t catch. But when I turned to him, he’d removed his glasses and was rubbing the back of his stiff old hand across his eyes.

By the time I reached our yard, the sun was gone. I walked down by the barn and stood with my arms on the top fence rail. Then I dropped my head to my arms and let the tears come.

I cried because Inky had been so gentle with the animals, and because he loved Tim so much, and Tim loved him. But mostly I cried because I hadn’t really wanted him; not until now, when this terrible thing had happened.

Inky’s paw couldn’t be saved. Too vividly, I recalled how Inky had raced across fields and meadows, swift and free as a cloud shadow. I listened skeptically as the vet tried to reassure us: “He’s young and strong. He’ll get along on three legs.”

Tim took the news with surprising calmness. “It’s all right,” he said. “Just so Inky comes home.”

“But those long jaunts the two of you take may tire him now,” I cautioned.

“He’s always waited for me. I’ll wait for him. Besides, we’re never in much of a hurry.”

The vet called a few days later. “You’d better come for your dog. He’s homesick.” I went immediately and was shocked at the change in Inky. The light was gone from his eyes. His tail hung limp and tattered, and the stump of his leg was swathed in a stained bandage. He hobbled over and pressed wearily against my leg. A shudder went through the hot, thin body and he sighed—a long, deep sigh filled with all the misery and loneliness of the past few days.

At the farm, I helped Inky from the car. He looked first to the sheep, grazing in the pasture; then, beyond the fields of green winter wheat, to the autumn woods where the horses, dappled with sunlight, moved among the trees. My heart ached as I realized how great must have been his longing for this place. At last, he limped to the barn and slipped between the heavy doors.

While his wound healed, Inky stayed in the barn, coming out only in the evenings. Throughout those days a sick feeling never left me. You are a coward to let him live in this condition, I told myself. But in my heart I wasn’t sure.

About a week after bringing Inky home, I was in the yard raking leaves. When I’d finished under the maple, I sat on the steps to rest. It was a perfect Indian summer day; our country road was a tunnel of gold, and sumac ran like a low flame along the south pasture.

Then, with a flurry of leaves, Inky was beside me. I knelt and stroked the fur so smooth and shiny again. He moved, and I was achingly aware of the useless limb. “I’m so sorry, Inky,” I said, putting my arm around his neck and pressing my head against his.

Sitting awkwardly, he placed his paw on my knee and looked up at me with soft, intelligent eyes. Then he pricked his ears and turned to listen. In an instant, he was off to meet the school bus. He ran with an ungainly, one-sided lope—but he ran with joy.

Tim jumped from the high step and caught the dog in his arms, “Oh, Inky! Inky!” he cried. Inky licked Tim’s face and twisted and squirmed with delight. They remained there for a time, oblivious to anything but the ecstasy of being together again.

Watching them, I knew I’d been right to let the dog live. What was it Mr. Jolliff had said?

“Life’s pretty precious... especially where there’s love.”

~Aletha Jane Lindstrom
Chicken Soup for the Cat & Dog Lover’s Soul

More stories from our partners