Feeling whole again.

It’s autumn in Wisconsin, the leaves giving us brilliance every morning, the weather warm enough to allow jackets to be ignored, cool enough to make us comfortable. Football season is well underway, and the Milwaukee Brewers are in the baseball playoffs. And…

…I have a dog with me again.

(Originally published in The Chronotype, October 6, 2021)

If there are no dogs in Heaven…

            That’s the start of a quote from the great humorist Will Rogers, who finished it thusly: “…then when I die, I want to go where they went.” But dogs do go to Heaven, I think. Where else would they go? The Lord would surely reward them for their service on Earth, service which is without exception selfless and pure. Dogs will do whatever they are trained to do by their human masters, and fortunately most of them are trained to do good things. Most of all, dogs do what comes naturally: they love us, without hesitation. They start this love on the day they come home with us and it stops only when they close their eyes for the last time. Those of us who believe in God, if we are dog lovers, fervently trust that our dogs’ love lasts for eternity. They’re waiting for us at the Rainbow Bridge. I have three of them there right now.

            We have to believe this, you see, because the thought of never seeing our beloved friends again is too much to bear. Unlike almost every human relationship, dogs give us everything they have, every day, unconditionally. A dog will give us thousands of great days and only one bad day, which is a pretty good deal when you think about it. That bad day, unfortunately, is going to be a really bad one, but even so you sign up for the deal willingly, because what you’ll get in those good days is really, really good.

            I went through one of those bad days on May 7. When I left for work early that morning, our 11-year-old Yorkie, Sophie, was asleep on our bed, curled up on my robe, as always. I scratched her behind her ears for what turned out to be the last time. Hours later, a stroke left us with no choice but to have the vet end her pain. We buried her in our yard, which she had defended all those years from intruders ranging from chipmunks to bears. She rests there now, always on duty.

            The weeks went by, 21 of them. Many an evening found me out on the deck, leaning on the railing and looking out at her grave. Every time, the tears would come. After a while, I came to accept that she was gone, and the bitterness and anger I’d felt in the days after her death went away. There may be a day when I can ask God why He allowed Sophie to leave us too soon, but on that day, she’ll be back in my arms again and I won’t care about what happened on that spring day in 2021. I will have eternity with her. What happened on that day will have no consequence.

            I have often felt a sense of sadness for atheists. What do they have to look forward to? A dirt nap that never ends, no matter what you did during your life. Whether you were a Mother Teresa or a serial killer, the result is the same. And for the atheist dog lover, there will never be that joyous reunion. Perhaps his hell is being forced to sit at some mystical window and watch his dog, sitting at the Rainbow Bridge and waiting, a wait that never ends. But maybe not. God would not punish the dog that way.

            The 21 weeks were the longest period I’d spent without a dog in the house in 19 years. It ended on the first Saturday of October when we journeyed over to Birnamwood to pick up ten-week-old Maisie. It was a beautiful autumn day, exactly 11½ years from the day we’d picked up Sophie. Our new little one captured our hearts immediately, helping to fill the aching gap left by her predecessor. I like to think that Maisie will never replace Sophie in our hearts; she’s taken her own place. She gets along beautifully with our cat, Jezebel, who is only a month older. Within hours of Maisie’s arrival, they were playing tag and shadow-boxing. I don’t think about what’s down the road with Maisie, except the strong likelihood that there will be many, many great days.

            On her first full day, we video-chatted with my parents before kickoff of the Packer game. They watched Maisie eagerly working on a chewie. My dad, who has been a dog man since winning Bowser the Beagle at the county fair as a teenager 70 years ago, sat in his chair, not saying much. Dad is trapped on the long, slow dementia train, but he smiled when he saw Maisie. Not surprising; I haven’t stopped smiling since I first held her.

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