For a few years, I ran a small dog sled team. I had four female dogs on my team, Kai (the lead dog), as well as Suka, Kina, and Pika. Each dog had their own unique, and at times annoying, personality. Each dog had a job on the team, and while some shared jobs, they each employed a different emphasis to the way they executed this job. Three to four times per week, I would load all the dogs in the van along with the sled and all the gear and then we would drive the forty miles or so to our sledding zone; Hope Valley.
As we’d approach the parking area, the dogs would go crazy with anticipation. They would bark and howl and scream as they impatiently waited to be hooked up and do their job. It would take me about a half an hour to pull the sled out, get each dog in her harness, hook them up, and get ready to mush the five-mile loop. For me, and for the dogs I suspect, these mornings were magic. The dogs lived for their jobs and I just loved being a part of their world as they did them. There is nothing quite like being in the presence of a working dog as they work. The beautiful scenery of the Tahoe mountains and the solitude didn’t hurt my enjoyment much either.
I have wonderful stories of the dogs getting impatient while I was hooking up and then leaving without me. I have great memories of them running in unison like a well-oiled machine. And I cringe as I recall Kai, our lead and my best dog pal, losing her tail in a training accident. I also remember the tears when we had to adopt two of the team out when we lost our home in 2009. Long story short, I just love dogs.
Pika died not long after that while on a run with her new owner. Kina is still alive and doing well living with friends in our former hometown. Suka went to live with a great family and died last year of cancer. And Kai, my best pal and beloved companion is still with us at now almost 14 years old. She has a neurological condition which causes seizures and is on medication to treat the seizures, but otherwise, is doing very well for her age. I love her as much today as I did the day I wept when her tail got caught in the front wheel of my mountain bike so many years ago. She is and has been a great dog.
Last week we had a likely illegal gathering of friends and family at our home. At this gathering was my friend Paul. As we were talking, he stopped and looked at Kai with a bit of admiration in his eyes for a solid minute or so as I helped her find her direction after she had a little seizure. He then turned to me and said, “you’ve been a good parent to her all these years.” I asked him what he meant. He simply said, “you’ve always taken very good care of her.”
Needless to say, his off the cuff comment filled me with an inordinate amount of pride. Why? Because I’ve always felt like Kai has been the one who takes care of me. Kai can always cheer me up when I am down. She has been a constant companion through thick and thin. She has accompanied me on countless adventures and has grown up with my kids as a part of the family I love so much. So, to get some outside affirmation that I too have meant something to her, was simply great.
My friend Aaron comes up quite a bit to help us as we remodel our new house. He has also seen me and Kai together for years through thick and thin. He recently told me that he worries about me for when the inevitable happens, and Kai dies. All I could say was that I worry too. I love her and cannot imagine how much I will miss her. She came into my life fourteen years ago and will one day, probably soon, no longer be a part of it. When a good dog dies, it is always too soon.
So, what is a dog person like me to do? Well, it seems that in my case the answer was to get a puppy. Yep, that’s right, a puppy. Recently, while I was on a hunting trip in South Dakota, I got a Yellow Lab – German Short Haired Pointer mix puppy. He name is Lucille, or Lucy, or Lu Lu, or Lu or anything with “Oo” in it. She’s pretty great. I work with her everyday trying to teach her to not only be a good dog, but also a bird dog. Again, I love being around working dogs doing their jobs. Lucy will never replace Kai, I know that. But it has been fun having them together at least for a time. Kai tolerates Lucy, and I’m pretty sure that Lucy loves Kai.
You might be asking: why did I get Lucy? Well, I got Lucy because I love dogs. I think that God gave us dogs in part to remind us that at one point long ago in the Garden, we had a job to care for the animals and they in turn provided some companionship for us. Their companionship was not enough for Adam and so God gave him Eve. But, at least with dogs, a shadow of that companionship remains. Dogs are unique in that our presence makes them happy just as theirs makes us happy. While I’m here on this sinful earth, I will take good gifts from God as reminders of the life of the world to come anywhere I can get them. For me, good dogs are those reminders, and I am thankful for them every single day.
When I was an undergrad, I remember someone asking Dr. Rosenbladt if dogs will be in heaven. I’ll never forget his answer. Rod said pretty plainly, “I don’t want to know the Christian that thinks that their dog won’t meet them in paradise.” All these years later I can say, me either.