35: Canine Angel

35: Canine Angel

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: What I Learned from the Dog

Canine Angel

Angels have no philosophy but love.

~Adeline Cullen Ray

I called and whistled for Kishka until the neighbors glared me into apologetic silence. They were understandably weary of hearing my desperate voice disrupt the peace of another lazy summer’s afternoon. Yet I had to try. My seven-year-old Malamute-mix had been missing for several days. She’d never before strayed far from home. I feared something terrible had happened to her. Kishka was far too intelligent to leave voluntarily. Why should she? At my house a dog’s life meant an existence that hovered between splendid and spoiled beyond belief. So I scoured the neighborhood again for my lost pet.

The photo I carried showed her Malamute heritage plainly. The mix part however, had always been a mystery, even at the shelter where I adopted her six years earlier. Damp Missouri heat wilted me as I walked from house to house. I’d hold up Kishka’s picture and hear the same response.

“Sorry. I haven’t seen your dog.”

Lack of success didn’t stop me from asking. At first people clucked in sympathy. Soon they shifted to tolerance and then closer toward exasperation.

I decided it would be wise to expand my search. The newspaper contained a few lost and found ads that revealed nothing more significant than the ill-timed discovery of someone’s empty leather wallet.

Next I drove to animal control. Inside were rows of cold steel cages crowded full of furry faces. Each one had hopeful eyes that made me swallow hard. It seemed every shade, shape, and size was represented except the one I sought... thirty-five pounds of gray and black fur that framed a tan mask, with a bushy tail curled over like a question mark. My search had dead-ended again.

I didn’t want to believe that anything dire could have happened to Kishka, so I revamped my attitude. With no facts to the contrary, I reasoned someone must have taken advantage of her merry, unsuspicious nature and claimed her for their own. I could almost see her playing fetch with happy children, eating a beefy meal, and drowsing on a fluffy pillow.

However, even my overactive imagination couldn’t convince me to put away the food and water dishes just yet. It would make her absence seem too permanent. I wasn’t ready for that. I sat down to ponder my next move when a sharp jangle from the phone jolted me. I hurried over to pick up the call before my already tattered nerves could fray even more. On the other end of the line, I heard my mother’s voice ask a strange question.

“Is Kishka at home?”

“No.” I blinked away the sting of truth. “I haven’t seen her in days. Why?”

“Well, there’s a dog at my house that looks a lot like her.”

Could it be possible? But good sense quickly ruled out hope. Mom lived more than six miles away. True, I’d taken Kishka to her house before, but never in any other way than by car and via a convoluted combination of highway and side streets.

“I don’t think so, Mom. It must be a stray.”

“This dog’s skinny. And really dirty. But she’s friendly. Just like Kishka.”

Her voice sounded decidedly less certain.

“Lots of dogs are friendly. Especially when they’re hungry. I’ll bring over some food and see what we can do for the poor thing.”

I lugged Kishka’s bag of kibble out to my car and lifted it inside. The dog deserved one good meal before I took her to animal control. Then I remembered the rows of steel cages and shuddered. Or maybe I’d bring her home with me instead. It couldn’t be very hard to find a family for a nice dog. That idea sounded much better. I relaxed into the seat and began to make a mental list of possible candidates.

Mom’s name went right to the top. She’d been through a rough and lonely time since Dad passed away unexpectedly the previous year. She kept to herself more than I liked and didn’t show much interest in things she used to enjoy. A loyal canine friend could be the perfect medicine for her. Then I wondered why I hadn’t thought of suggesting a pet long before now.

A few minutes later, I arrived at Mom’s house. I saw her in the front yard feeding something that looked like ham to a thin dog that nibbled politely from her hand. Its fur was brown, spiked with dry mud. Both Mom and the dog noticed my car at the same time. She raised her hand to me while the dog pranced around the lawn, bushy tail waving like a victory flag. My jaw dropped. It was Kishka.

I jumped from the car. Kishka ran over and greeted me as she always did... with great slobbery kisses. I hugged her and smoothed a hand over her coat. A few particles of clotted dirt fell to the ground and familiar gray fur peeked through. Wide-eyed, I looked up at Mom.

“I can’t believe it. How in the world did she get here?”

Mom offered a theory.

“Could she have followed some kids?”

“I don’t know any reason kids would cross roads and zigzag through millions of subdivisions straight from my house to yours. There has to be another explanation.”

Mom shrugged and directed her attention back to the dog. She handed over another piece of ham and laughed out loud.

“Kishka, you’re really something, traveling all this way to see me. You can come back and visit anytime you want.”

Kishka’s tail swept back and forth even faster.

Then it struck me. Mom’s surprise guest had lifted her spirits far more than anyone else had been able to do. I hadn’t seen such genuine delight on her face since before Dad died. A plan began to form. Without another thought, words tumbled from my mouth.

“I’m going to take this gypsy home for a bath and dinner. Then we’ll both be back. I’ve got an idea to discuss with you.”

I drove home with Kishka pressed close against my side. I looked at her and couldn’t suppress a grin of my own.

“Good girl, Kishka. How did you know what Mom needed? And how did you ever find your way to see her?”

Kishka’s ears perked up as I spoke. She yawned and a pink tongue lolled out. Her mouth seemed to curve unmistakably into a mystical dog smile.

There are some things we’ll never know. Dogs have a close connection to people. Could Kishka somehow have sensed Mom’s plight and set off to help her? Or did some heavenly intervention take place that day? It’s a mystery we’ve never solved. Strangely, Kishka never wandered away from home again. I suppose she didn’t see the need, for I took her on regular trips to see Mom until the day she got a dog of her own... a Cocker Spaniel pup that kept her happily occupied and helped reopen the door to her heart.

And although we never figured out the secret of Kishka’s pilgrimage, there was one thing I finally realized. The mysterious mix in my little Malamute could be only one thing. Pure canine angel.

~Pat Wahler

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