Again, I thank everyone who entered the contest! Your pride in and love for the animal companions who bless your lives is inspiring.
LIFE WITHOUT LUCAS
"I looked at my very large canine friend Lucas (generally described as half Holstein and half reindeer) and said, “What do you think, boy? Walkies?” The mention of the “W” word stopped Lucas, who turned and stared, head cocked to one side, motionless. I broke the trance. “Let’s go!” When we reached the bike path, I let Lucas off lead. Zoom! Off into the woods, then back to check with me, then off again, ranging out and coming back as I walked through the snow hushed woods. We’ve walked this quiet, almost otherworldly path many times. Even though it winds through the very center of our city, there are no car horns, no one yelling at their children. The soft gurgle of the creek and a low sigh of wind in the tall trees is our only accompaniment.
I usually hook Lucas’s lead back up where the swamp begins, about halfway down the path. But, instead of hooking him back up, I thought, "What the hell! The swamp is frozen! No worries!"
Just when I was comfortable allowing him to range through the swampy area, he decided to bolt. I knew when I saw his head jerk back and his eyes change; he had smelled something out there. “No!” I yelled. But Lucas's mind was already fixated, and he was off. He raced over the levee, crossed the railroad tracks and crashed into the scrubland behind Taggart Building Supply Co.
I stood atop the levee and repeatedly called him. The minutes crawled by in the now eerie and unnatural quiet. Nothing. Not a glimpse of dog, nor sound of dog jewelry jangling. Then, I heard the unmistakable sound of a diesel locomotive pounding its way nearer and nearer. I screamed “Get back here right now!” into the softly falling snow. Nothing. Afraid he might attempt the lethal sport of train dodging to get to me, I crossed the tracks just ahead of the deafening DT&I diesel. Still nothing. I walked the tracks, fecklessly calling. In the approaching darkness, my thoughts were gloomy. “What if he’s hurt or trapped and can't respond?”
As the daylight dimmed, I began to track him through the snow-covered scrubland. I found where he entered the woods, where he went under bushes, over logs. I wound around and around, until finally arriving back at my starting point. It was dark, and I considered giving up the hunt. I imagined a “Lost Dog” poster, and contemplated the hellish thought that I might never see Lucas again. In despair, I knelt to check once more for tracks, when a series of short sniffs reached my ear. I turned. Lucas's big head was six inches from my face. He cocked his head quizzically, as if to say “That was fun, what do we do next?” I gave him a big hug and a vigorous rub on the head and securely attached the lead to his collar. We walked home together through the soft violet night."
—William Price, Springfield, OH
KODA & GRACE
"Koda Marie was my best friend. She was my heart; she was part of my soul. Koda was a gorgeous all white boxer. One day, due to someone’s horribly selfish choice, she was ripped from our lives.
Only weeks after her passing, right before my 29th birthday, I received more life-altering news. I had the beginnings of cancer and would need to have surgery to remove all of my large intestines. I had no idea how I was going to get through this without my best friend.
After Koda’s tragic death, I swore off ever owning another pet; I could not fathom going through the pain of losing again. My husband, however, had another idea. Daily he was on petfinder.com scouring through all the needy babies. Day after day, I listened to “How about this one?” or “What do you think of him?” Always my answer was the same; I didn’t think my heart could take it. Then one day, I had enough. I agreed to go visit a litter of boxer pups at a local rescue.
I will never forget the first time we saw each other. All of the puppies rushed over to us to greet us. All except one, The Runt. Oddly, she sat back and looked us over, tilting her head from side to side, as if she was judging us. I realized she was looking us over, to see if we were “The Ones”. The instant I picked up her tiny body, I knew. The Runt looked at me with these penetrating brown eyes, and something clicked. The gaping wound in my soul was no longer quite so raw. While it will never fully go away, that day it started to heal.
A few weeks later, we got to bring The Runt home. That is when the healing, both emotional and physical, began. I was only a few weeks out of surgery, but this little pup was the best therapy. I no longer had time to feel sorry for myself. The Runt would not allow lying around on the couch all day. On the rough days, when the pain was just too much, she would bring me offerings. One by one, she would lay her favorite toys next to me. As if to say “Here you go Mama. These are my favorite things. Feel better please.”
Two years later and not a day goes by that she doesn’t bring a smile to my face. Not only did she help me to heal from a devastating loss, she also helped me to recover from multiple surgeries. It is almost as if every time she peers at me with her soulful eyes she is assessing what it is that I need from her.
There is no doubt in my mind that my angel, Koda, picked her out and sent her to me. On the base of her head is the tiniest white patch of fur that marks the spot where Koda kissed her baby sister, Grace, before sending her down to me.grace–noun
the influence or spirit of God operating in humans to regenerate or strengthen them."—Stephanie Hayes, Grand Rapids, MI
I’d like to share something that I wrote last year intended for a very specific audience. First, a little back story to explain: I’m a volunteer puppy raiser for a non-profit organization that provides highly trained assistance dogs to people with disabilities. Puppy raisers for Canine Companions for Independence are tasked with welcoming an eight week old puppy into their home and then care for, train, socialize and love the pup for the next 14 months. It is truly an awesome job.
After 14 months with the puppy raiser, the dog is returned to the organization for another six to nine months of advanced training before being placed with an individual.
Last November I turned in the beautiful Inga, the first puppy that I raised for CCI.
We’re asked by CCI to share our thoughts at turn in about the puppy raising experience. So, filled with emotion, I wrote the following. The specific audience was really just me; it was therapeutic to get these words out. But I did submit these thoughts to CCI, which were later shared with all in attendance at the November Team Graduation ceremony.
"I’ve spent the past 14 months with a constant companion. This beautiful dog has been by my side more than any one person. And I’ve fallen in love. I love that I’m never alone. I love that this dog is ready to go when I need to go somewhere. I love how easy she is to be around. It’s been wonderful raising a little round cotton ball puppy into the amazing dog she is now. And now I’m letting go. Not because I have to, but because I want to. And like the other puppy raisers, I’m working through the confusing process of being happy and sad at the same time. I’ll miss this incredible shedding machine and suppose that I’ll still be checking on her in the back seat of the car for a while. But my job is done. She has more to learn and much more to do. More than just me. We’ve worked so hard to reach this next step. I’m ready to wish her luck. And maybe soon, someone else will know the awesome wonder of having this extraordinary dog as their constant companion."
How do we give them up? With a lot of pride and a box of Kleenex. This dog that changed my life will now change someone else’s. Inga’s graduation is next month on August 14.
—Donna Sword, Clayton, OH
Canine Companions for Independence