Do All Dogs Go to Heaven?

I wonder about things like that. It’s nice to think of the good dogs in our life walking beside us in great beyond. What about the bad ones? Did they never get a chance here but deserve a break in the afterlife?

I made a big mistake fourteen years ago and would like for some young simpleton to profit from my stupidity. Here is my advice: if you lose a beloved old dog, don’t immediately take four sad children and your big-hearted wife near a pet store that frequently holds adoptions. You will end up with a puppy, I assure you. We did. She was a cute little black thing but she was a handful.

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Someone found her playing in the road when she was five weeks old, too young to be weaned. But with no mother dog in sight, the rescue took her in and then we did.

IMG_0020I never really bonded with her. With work and a big family, maybe I had too much going on in my life, I don’t know. She bonded with the girls though… and she ate quite a few of their toys. We took her to obedience classes. She failed. Nothing stuck. She still ate toys. She wouldn’t mind.

But she was always sweet to the girls and never, ever growled or snapped at them or their friends. Besides the typical puppy stuff, we discovered that she was obsessed with the game of fetch. That dog would knock over anything and everything in pursuit of a tennis ball. In fact, we had to ban them from the house because she crashed into children over a ball more than once. When she was a puppy, that wasn’t a big deal. When she grew to a 90-pound menace, running over kids became a problem.

Her back legs began to wear down early in her life. She struggled mightily when it got cold. Over the past year, a knot began swelling at her shoulder. The vet said it was bursitis, but things began to turn. She was getting old, slowing down and we knew the time was coming to make a decision – the worst decision a pet-owner has to make. When she stopped eating, it became obvious. A Saturday appointment was made.

We were in the den Friday and she began methodically licking her shoulder. Like I had for the past year, I told her to quit. But then it dawned on me – what does it matter now? She has less than 24 hours left.

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That night, the girls all spent time with her. When they were little and we had company, Jenna and Kylie would forfeit their rooms for the guests and sleep on the floor with the dogs. They thought that was really cool – to sleep with the dogs. So Jenna decided to spend the night on the floor with her.

It dawned on me that Kylie would take the next shift.

We all piled in the little room at the animal hospital and saw her peacefully away.

I have a vivid picture of Kylie waiting with a tennis ball… smiling and calling her name. The first of her family to come home to her.

“Come here, Misty. Come home… good girl.”

Do all dogs go to heaven?

I don’t know. It’s a theological question too lofty for me. She wasn’t a great dog. I wasn’t a great owner, either. But she was loved and she loved my girls. She did her job here and had a good run – 14 years for a dog found playing in the road.

I think of the two of them running and jumping on perfect legs – bound by earthly maladies no more – and I find that I really hope dogs make it.

Have a good fetch, Misty. Take care of Kylie until we come home.

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Tell Me Again, About the Rabbits

This year has been an odd one for me because I have read much more than I’ve written. I began working down a list of the “100 greatest works of fiction.” I had read many of them, but I found two giant holes in my library: modern books and American literature. So I dove into Harry Potter, The Help, and Game of Thrones interspersed with Melville, Hemingway, and Steinbeck.

That last one, Steinbeck… he hit me in the teeth with Of Mice and Men. I respect his ability to pack such deep, meaningful characters and a heartbreaking story into 112 pages. That is genius. Most authors today seem to write for the trilogy or get so enamored with their own words that 112 pages is barely a back-story. It also hit me because I could identify with Lennie and the rabbits.

The impoverished and simple Lennie just dreams of holding a rabbit in his palm and stroking its soft fur. But he can’t. He can’t and never will. So he constantly begs George for stories about the rabbits.

bunnyTell me again, about the rabbits

The rabbits represent something of substance that a hopeless drifter has no chance of claiming. The rabbits are a thing just out of reach – a dream that could never come true. That thing we want, but cannot have.

We’ve all dreamed of things we couldn’t have. Sometimes it’s a person or a relationship. Often it is just that we want more: more money, more stuff, more recognition. More would make it better and fill the void.

Most of the things we spend our time dreaming about are material. With the right preparation, bankroll, or a stroke of luck, they could be attained. But like Lennie, the thing I want I cannot have. I want it so badly that I often feel my bones ache to fill the void.

Tell me again, about the rabbits

Labor Day Weekend four years ago brought news that Kylie’s cancer treatment had failed. We were scheduled for a five-day hospital stay; but they sent us home while they planned a new course. Because of the unanticipated time with her sisters, Kylie was thrilled. But that news marked the beginning of a downward spiral. We never got ahead of the cancer until we lost her months later.

I will never hold her again, or hear her say “daddy”, or see how she reacts to the attention of boys. I’ll never be able to see her on stage, share a cup of coffee, or walk her down the aisle. Those are things I want and cannot have. I can never have. I will never have.

Contentment is elusive when you see people all around holding their rabbits and your rabbit is but a memory.

But along with the ache that comes from wanting something you will never have comes a paradox. While I live in jealousy of rabbitful families, I don’t begrudge them their rabbits. I want everyone to have their own and joyfully hold them forever. I just want mine, too.

Tell me again, about the rabbits

And so, like Lennie, I dream. I am a drifter in this life who dreams an impossible dream about holding a thing I will never again hold. I smile, I work, I play, I have laughter and fun… and yet the allure of the rabbit’s soft fur always tugs at my heart. It’s a beautiful dream that necessarily awakens to a sobering reality. My palm is empty… there is no rabbit. There will never and can never be a rabbit.

Tell me again, about the rabbits

Lennie settles for stories about rabbits and so must I… in this life.

But I believe there is a day coming when my dream will come true… when Kylie will take my hand and show me a land of promise and reward to which no work of fiction can compare. That belief, though resolute, rarely makes the waiting here easier. I see now that this life will be difficult until that day.

But still, I will dream.

Tell me again, about the rabbits

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