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Husband, father, grandfather, friend...a few of the roles acquired in 62 years of living.  I keep an upbeat attitude, loving humor and the singular freedom of a perfect laugh.  I don't let curmudgeons ruin my day; that only gives them power over me.  Having experienced death once, I no longer fear it, although I am still frightened by the process of dying.  I love to write because it allows me the freedom to vent those complex feelings that bounce restlessly off the walls of my mind; and express the beauty that can only be found within the human heart.

Astronomy Picture of the Day

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Furballs and Hearts***

Copyright © 2011 by Ralph Couey

*Chicago Tribune
August 19, 2011
as "Unwavering Loyalty"

*Baltimore Sun
August 19, 2011
as "Unwavering loyalty"

*Somerset, PA Daily American
August 20, 2011
as "Unwavering Loyalty"

The first dog in my life arrived under a Christmas tree when I was 6 years old. He was a Dachshund, small and wrinkled, with eyes that were barely opened. My sister and I took him into our arms and our hearts, naming him "Brownie."

We played with him constantly, taking him everywhere. At night, it was at the foot of my bed where he took his rest.  After only a year, he died when some miscreant threw a piece of poisoned meat into the back yard.

My sister and I were devastated.

But on Christmas Day two years later, our parents presented us with another tiny Dachshund, which we also named Brownie. He was with us for 17 years, a long time for a dog. We loved him and he us, but he didn’t take too well to my fianc√©, unnerving her with his relentless silent glare. And every time we came home, he would be standing at the top of the stairs, leaned out as far as he could in order to see around the staircase and greet us with wagging tail and a joyful bark.

But as the years passed, he began to suffer. His back legs became stiff, and then paralyzed. Finally, my Mom could stand it no longer and without telling the rest of us, she took him to the vet and gave him his final rest. I remember that moment of shock and loss; the sudden hole in my heart.

I didn’t get another dog until after we were married.  We turned to the Humane Society, making two trips to the animal shelter. There were many dogs, but amid those jumping and yelping, and silent and quivering, there was one dog sitting quietly; composed and dignified. Cheryl walked by the cage door and suddenly stopped. She knelt down, and the dog responded, licking the fingers she stuck through the mesh. She turned and said definitively, “This is the one.” I know better than to argue with that tone of voice.

She was a Samoyed. In their native Siberia, they are sled dogs, herders, and guards. Their faces softened by a permanent smile, Samoyeds have a joyous personality, given to displays of pure cuteness. One couple came home to a burglarized home. Oddly, amid the damage and loss, there was a pile of dog toys in the middle of the floor. They concluded that this 65-pound mass of fur, flesh, and teeth had greeted the burglar by trying to get this unexpected visitor to play.

Her past was invisible; she was found wandering through the forest. But it didn’t take long for her to find her place in our family.

It was remarkable how she looked after our kids. My wife and I had to leave for work by 6:00 so it was up to them to make the schoolbus. But Samantha understood the routine.  Upon hearing the bus pull into the neighborhood, immediately made the rounds of all the bedrooms, barking incessantly, urging the kids out the door.

But Samoyeds only live to be 11 to 12 years, and old age is a trying and painful experience.  Cheryl and I made two tough decisions, a couple of months apart. Misty was first, nearly blind and in constant pain. Then came Sammy’s turn, after a long night of listening to her whimpering, and even howling in pain.

After that dual heartbreak, I was pretty sure we were done with dogs. Then our oldest daughter adopted a microscopic little terrier who she named “Tweeter.”  She was our wild child, and at the time, living with a pretty rough crowd.  She left Tweeter with us.

That was 11 years ago. He’s still with us, as sweet a dog as anyone could have asked for.  

The thing is, I know how this is going to end. I know how devastated we will be when he passes on. I try to prepare myself for that day, but I doubt my efforts will blunt the certain pain.

A dog is the closest thing to unconditional love next to God, Himself.  Our front door becomes more and more the barrier between the harshness of life, and that sanctuary of “home.” And nothing makes you more welcome than that wildly wagging tail, those bright, happy eyes; that sheer unbounded joy saluting our return.

We all need that. It’s God’s affirmation that we’re always loved.



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