For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Jeremiah 29:11
There is no way to describe what I was feeling for the first time in my life. It was a dark feeling. It was a helpless and hopeless feeling. Yes, the heavy pressing of guilt was there, too. For a few seconds or moments, I can’t say how long, I was paralyzed and what to do next would not come to me.
I had just witnessed from a distance of only a few steps the cruel and painful death of my friend and buddy, Barney. Only a few minutes before he’d been bouncing around my feet, wildly wagging his tail, panting with a playful smile not possible on a human face. As the car sped away Barney’s body lay lifeless; nothing left but a warm, mangled clump of fir crumpled up on cold asphalt.
Who can say what circumstances come together to make the pain of losing a pet so hard? In my case, there had been two special dogs in my life before Barney came along. Letting go of Blackie and Moog had its challenges for sure, but the end for them came with some warning. So, even though “that feeling” bubbled up with each good-bye to every pet, nothing would reach the depths of the tragedy of the day Barney died on the street in front of my house.
Although Blackie was not my first pet dog, he came along at an age where my memories are much more solid than those of others before him. He was a black and white Cocker Spaniel with long, curly hair and, of course, those typical and smelly ears.
I grew up in a middle class neighborhood in Decatur, AL, at a time when all the kids played outdoors every day, no matter the weather. As a puppy, Blackie gained some notoriety by getting his picture in the local newspaper. The black and white picture included, in addition to Blackie, my little brother, our pet rabbit and me as we fed them both in the same bowl. Just a few short days later we discovered furry rabbit parts scattered all over the backyard. The only evidence left of Blackie’s latest meal.
Our house sat on a small lot bordered on each side by neighbors, a street in the front and a gravel alley on the backside. Blackie’s dog house sat along the edge of a fenced area near the alley. There were huge sweet gum trees all around giving him plenty of shade during hot summer days, and he happily enjoyed daily meals, fresh water and time out in the yard with us.
Over time a terrible problem developed for Blackie and our family. It was no fault of his. Our neighborhood was blessed with a preponderance of young, restless boys constantly searching for entertainment. A penned up Cocker Spaniel near the alley turned out to be an irresistible target of ridicule and taunting. As the days and weeks passed by, Blackie’s response became more and more vicious. Changes in his personality led to great concern in my parents’ minds about who he might bite if the opportunity ever arose. Mom and Dad’s story to my brother and me almost convinced us that Blackie had found a new home. One with a nice family who lived way out in the country somewhere and that he was now a much happier dog. I never knew any different, and I never pressed them for more explanation.
Moog was a mostly black, medium-size mixed breed dog who just showed up at our house one day and decided to hang around. Moog got his name from some sort of book I was reading at the time, so my attachment to him melded quickly and deeply. He was around long enough to learn a few tricks and it seemed to me, to develop a growing degree of loyalty. It was a sad day for me when Moog’s rightful owner spotted him and me in the front yard. Of course, when I saw the delight in both Moog and his owner, the only option was to try to be happy about their reunion. It took me a long time to reconcile it all emotionally.
I have no doubt that lots of people have similar stories to tell about the highs and lows of bonding with a pet. So it’s not the stories themselves that prompted me to write about them. Their significance lies in the parts they played in my finding my way to my calling in life. I had not even the remotest idea at the time my calling would be to veterinary medicine. The truth is, at the time I couldn’t tell you the difference between a veterinarian and a dogcatcher! I guess I thought that because I’d seen dogcatchers, but not a veterinarian.
Nothing happens in life without a reason. The joys and sadness I experienced as a result of bonding with animals served as a hidden foundation for the future. Unknown to me, countless times would come when a fellow pet owner needed empathy more than anything else, as I stood with them and their pets in good times and in bad times. Experiences during my early years with the human-animal bond, I believe, occurred because of the One who knew His plan for me.