He's Just a Dog
He's Just a Dog
We knew our neighbors, but we weren't real personal with most of them. Just small talk and various chit-chat. It wasn't that we did not want to talk. We were cordial and said "Hi" when we saw them. It’s just that we weren't sure how to relate to the quiet, elderly couples. Then one day, we got a dog.
Tammie, my wife, went to the pet store and fell in love with a black lab. In her spur of the moment passion for this "puppy farm canine", she put a deposit on him and came home. I was not thrilled with getting a dog from a pet store. I was less thrilled with hurting Tammie by making a big deal out of it. So we spent a few days on vacation thinking of a name. Meanwhile, the dog was clueless about his soon to be changing world, and he spent his final hours of pet store existence no different than any other. What a change there would be...
...and for the dog too!
We couldn't think of any names and our ideas were growing stale. My wife jokingly said, “Let's name him after the snowmobiles." We rode Polaris Indy's at the time and the name just clicked. "Indy". And so it was.
Indy had a bad hip before he was one year old. It was eventually operated on. Years later, his knee needed an operation. In all, I had about $4000 wrapped up in his hind end. This had always made me sort of resent that dog. Still, Indy was incredibly friendly. When his legs got him about 20 feet away from the house, he bolted in a frumpy, clumsy, "hip and knee surgery gallup". He was going straight to Kathy and Skip's house.
Kathy and Skip, an elderly couple four houses away, had two dogs that were an attraction for Indy. Instead of shooing Indy away, Kathy would let him in and feed him. It got to the point where we realized she loved him and didn't mind walking him home after a few hours of visiting. Through this relationship, we got to know Kathy and Skip well.
Skip was a master carpenter and he put in time on my stair and railing project. He refused any compensation. He made it so much nicer than I would have done. Kathy made dog party invitations for our eventual three labs when her dogs had birthdays. Through Indy, we all became close friends.
Another couple, Don and Thelma, lived on the street perpendicular to ours. The back of their yard and the side of our yard share the same fence. They did not have a dog, but that didn't stop Don from adopting Indy. Don would meet Indy at the fence and sneak him dog biscuits. One day, while we were both out, he asked if it was okay that he did that.
I said, "Sure!"
I had always wondered if the dog bothered them at all. I guess not. He talked about how much he loved Indy. When we got our next two labs, Don and Thelma got a dog of their own. They'd sit in the yard and throw a ball for "Princess" over and over.
Once again, Indy turned a casual neighbor into a friend. We talked over the fence often about my work, his golf, the state of the world... He had a great sense of humor. I had to laugh when I asked him if he minded if I put up a new kind of fence. He said, "I don't care. I won't have to look at it for long."
In October of 2002, my wife and I had triplets.Kathy and Skip would always walk out of their house as we pushed the stroller. If they didn't come out, we would go real slow in front of their house to see if they would notice us. They didn't like to miss us.
Don and Thelma became Granpda Don and Grandma Thelma. They knocked on our door one evening because they wanted to take pictures of the babies. I couldn't believe they walked their frail bodies around the corner just for that. I would have brought them over. Eventually, Don and Thelma had the distinction of being the very first house my kids went to for trick or treat.
Meanwhile, Skip had begun to get sick. He was in and out of the hospital, but was always in good spirits. I was surprised to see him come out of the house one day to see the babies as we walked by. He commented how big they we getting and we all made small talk as usual. The only difference was that it would be the last time I ever saw Skip. He lost his battle with cancer shortly thereafter.
We were shocked. Speechless. Sad. I wished I had a picture of him with the kids so I could tell them about him. I wished I could have talked to him one last time and pray with him. I didn't even know it was that bad. He hid it well.
Now, as our hearts are still heavy about Skip, we notice that Don and Thelma haven't been sitting in their yard much lately. We figured it was the heat, but we decided to knock on their door. Thelma answered and told us the news. Don has Liver cancer and the doctors say it’s only a matter of a few months before it takes him home. We didn't know what to say... Sorry? What do you say? We told her we were very sad to hear that and that they were to call on us if they needed anything at all. We asked if we could come by in a day or two and visit him. She said he would like that.
Shortly thereafter, we brought the kids over there. Thelma gave them suckers while we all talked together. Don didn’t look good, but he put on a good front. I asked if I could take a picture of him and Thelma with the kids. His eyes lit up and he said, "Sure!" Then I told them about the church Tammie and I belong to and how it is all about families and saving the lost. I asked him about his spirituality and he said he believed. I then asked if we could pray together. He and Thelma were very receptive and seemed pleased at the notion.
Shortly after that day, Don passed away. Thelma took his death rather well. She talked of missing him, but always smiled when she said it. I think she was smiling because she knew she was right behind him. It wasn’t more than a few months later that Thelma suddenly followed Don home.
But we got that prayer in. And I got a picture. And we would have never got to know how wonderful our neighbors were, never got the chance to comfort Kathy at a time when she needed it, and never got the chance to pray with Don and Thelma if not for a puppy store canine with bad hips and an incredible knack for making friends.
I don't know if there are dogs in heaven, but I know there's a little bit of heaven in that dog