95: My Furry Angel

95: My Furry Angel

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

My Furry Angel

We derive immeasurable good, uncounted pleasures, enormous security, and many critical lessons about life by owning dogs.

~Roger Caras

In the spring of 2001 I completed a year of cancer treatments and was pronounced “in remission.” Little did I know that it would be a short-lived victory. It was a triple-digit hot Saturday afternoon in July when a dog changed my life forever. We were out of milk so I jumped in the car, blasted the air conditioner, and drove to the corner supermarket. My goal was simple: Buy milk and channel surf for the rest of the day inside the coolness of my home. That’s not what happened.

Outside the supermarket a dog adoption was in progress. In order to get inside the store I had to walk through a maze of orphaned, furry angels. About a dozen or more dogs of all types and sizes were in need of loving homes. A black, male Labrador Retriever instantly caught my attention. “He doesn’t belong here,” I thought. None of them did. But, this dog (Buddy) stood out among the pack. The vet estimated his age to be about three or four years old. When I looked into his soulful brown eyes I felt a connection.

As a cancer survivor, I knew what it was like to want a second chance at life. I knew what it was like to want to run, play, and feel the sun and wind on your face. I imagined that Buddy wanted the same. Before I knew it I was asking the volunteer about him and why he hadn’t been adopted yet. Adopting a cute puppy was always easier than an adult dog, they told me. Buddy’s large size and color is often associated with “dangerous dogs,” but when people realize how friendly he is, their few seconds of fear seem laughable. As I continued to ask questions I took notice of Buddy’s behavior. He had a quiet disposition and didn’t incessantly bark like the other dogs.

“I want to adopt him,” I said to the volunteer. “But, before I do I have to at least discuss it with my husband. I know he’ll say yes. I live two minutes from here; give me fifteen minutes to go home and talk to him.” To show that I was sincere I paid for the adoption in advance and rushed home.

Bill and I had discussed getting a dog many times, but for one reason or another we never did. Bill happened to be in the front yard when I drove up.

“We have a dog!” I began telling him everything but I was so excited my words sounded like incoherent babble.

Bill stopped me, “A Labrador Retriever? You wanted a guard dog.”

It was true. I had talked about Dobermans and Rottweilers. I knew nothing of those breeds except that they would protect me. I knew nothing about Labradors either.

I started to cry. “Oh, wait until you see him. He’s beautiful and I’ve already bonded with him.”

I never got milk that day.

We later learned that Buddy’s days at the shelter were numbered and his situation was desperate. If not adopted soon he would have been euthanized. When I brought Buddy home, Bill said, “I know this dog!” A few months earlier, a stray dog (Buddy) trotted through the neighborhood while Bill was in the front yard. The dog was thin, wore no collar, and didn’t want to leave Bill’s side. This was the first I had heard of this incident and it was then that I realized divine intervention was at work.

Within a few weeks of living with us, Buddy was housetrained. His belly had healed from being devoured by fleas and ticks, and his coat was improving, too. Though he has never chewed our woodwork or furniture, he has claimed numerous victories over bakery items left on the kitchen countertop and there was one particular incident involving a cherry pie.

One day after a few hours of running errands, I thought I’d reward myself with a piece of pie and a cold glass of milk. I couldn’t find the pie. Buddy had taken the pie box from the countertop without disturbing the myriad of paper piles surrounding it, carried it to his bed, neatly opened the never-opened box, and eaten the entire contents. I phoned Bill at work and was doubled over with knee-slapping laughter. “This could have been so much worse,” I said and imagined cherry filling all over the house. Buddy had eaten every morsel. Not a crumb or a speck of red, in any shade, could be found on our light gray carpeting and white walls. Except for the box and tin there was no evidence that a cherry pie ever existed.

Bill’s work days are long. We’d check in by phone, but during the day my constant companion was Buddy. It’s because of Buddy that I got out of bed at all. He couldn’t pour a bowl of kibble or get fresh water. He couldn’t open the back door to relieve himself in the yard. My love for him forced me to maintain a routine and revived my spirits. My question about his ability to protect me was challenged one afternoon. I’d been lying on the couch, my head felt like a smashed watermelon, and because of chemo I could barely walk across the room without holding onto the walls for support. I heard a delivery truck drive up and a few seconds later the doorbell rang. Buddy leapt over the couch like an Olympian, barking and growling in a ferocious voice that I’d never heard as he approached “the intruder.” He blocked me so that I couldn’t open the door, and given his demeanor it was best that the door remained closed.

Buddy reminds me to live every day to the fullest, and though he has never caught a rabbit, his passion for chasing them inspires me to never give up in my own quest to beat cancer. He’s about twelve years old now. His paws, eyebrows, and muzzle have grayed and mild hip dysplasia causes him to move slower than an old man easing into his rocking chair.

Last year, we adopted our daughter, Elizabeth, and became parents. She was two days old when we brought her home. The noise level in the house has dramatically increased ever since. Having a baby has been a big adjustment for everyone, including Buddy. He is gentle and patient with Elizabeth, his human sister. This is impressive considering she takes his rawhide chews, uses him as a pillow, a pull-up device, and tugs his whiskers. Buddy doesn’t seem to mind these intrusions of personal space and it has given us the opportunity to teach Elizabeth about caring for others. So, instead of pinching and pulling Buddy’s ears and hair, we’ve taught her about “nice touch” and now she pets and cuddles with him nicely. In the final years of his life, my furry angel has renewed purpose, and we are blessed that long ago he crossed our path, twice.

~Michelle L. Miller, Ph.D.

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