A Friend Gone Missing
A friend of mine has gone missing. I call her a friend, though she was not my pet. Patches was the next-door neighbor’s dog of twelve years. Now she is gone.
We had an on-again, off-again relationship that grew into a friendship. When she was very young before she was spayed, I recall hot nights peppered with her endless bark – bark, bark, bark.
She was part feist and part Heinz 57. When she was younger she had a wander-lust brought on by a leash and a desire to explore everything. She was just small enough to nose into the culvert at the end of the driveway. Yet she believed she was big enough to challenge most any dog.
Our on-again, off-again relationship developed when she would visit with the first set of kids next-door. Then we got to know one another better when I would dog sit her during the neighbor’s vacations.
I know how silly it sounds to say that I could look in her face and see her thoughts, but that is how I took it. If she was ever in my care and could do so, she would escape for a wild romp. I would go chasing after her to no avail. She could outrun me on foot or on bike. Just when she felt like it she would return, and it was then I sensed that she was laughing at me. Oh, we had a time of it.
It was during the year of 2012 that we grew closer. During the winter of 2011 there was an incident that drew us together in a way few could predict. Early one day I heard a terrible commotion next door: a dog fight. The jealous Labradorthat belonged to the new wife had the little dog in a death grip. I screamed and tried to shoo the dog away with little effect. Since they were in the neighbor’s fenced yard, I reasoned that I was not welcome in this dog fight. The Labradorwould leave the dog only to return to it at the slightest sound of life. Then she would grip the dog by the throat again and shake her for all she was worth.
I believed then she was at the point of death. Only by the greatest effort did I rouse the neighbor from a mid-morning sleep. That I accomplished by calling his wife and mother and getting instructions about waking him from his rest.
Live she did by some miracle, but the husband knew he could not let the dogs sleep safely in the same backyard. So, she had a new routine for a little over a year. She would stay inside the house during parts of the day, but she would be free to roam the neighborhood at night.
During the fall of 2011 and spring of 2012 she would come to visit or to follow me. Mind you, she would follow others too; but this is not their tale. If I was cycling, she would follow as far as my second loop, and that is two miles from the doorstep. If I was walking she would do the same, and in January it necessitated my tethering her with a rope attached to the collar for the safety of both of us in a neighborhood full of huge dogs.
“Puppy Dog.” I would call to her during April and May. She had decided that I was a fairly good mark. I gave her one piece of cheese, and that led to another and another. (Please don’t tell her owner.) When she felt good she would lie on my driveway, and as dawn was breaking she would give out the single woof that told me she wanted her cheese before I got the morning paper.
I could call her a puppy, or I could call her an old woman. Her fangs were broken or missing as a result of the fights she had endured. Only one fang hung sideways from the left corner of her mouth. Was she an old, toothless hag? Was she a teething baby? Both I think. It never stopped her from laughing at me.
Like many dogs she had a fear of thunder, and I recall a day in the summer of 2011 when she came in search of me. I actually used this as an example in a sermon in June of that year. I was sitting in the backyard when a cloud darkened the sky. Here she came to me. Her hindquarters were trembling. I reached down between my feet to pet the humble guest. When I did she began to grow calm even as the sky darkened. I told a congregation later that they should let the touch of the Master’s hand calm them.
As I mentioned we grew closer during the spring of 2012. She had been greeting me in the morning and had been following me as I mentioned. On a Tuesday or Wednesday she had come to lay on my back stoop. She curled into a ball, and she just looked at me. So quiet. I looked back and sensed that something was amiss. So, I just let her stay. I finished my cycling alone, and she lay on the stoop unwilling to move. Okay, I thought, I won’t move you. I was tempted to speak to the neighbor, but did not.
She was gone for a day. Her owner said they had treated her with a flea and tick dry shampoo. When she came back on Friday she seemed proud of herself and in better spirits. I greeted her and went my way.
This was the time of early June when the heat index rose considerably. So, she would not follow me but lay in the grass. I had a small ash in the front yard that would provide about nine feet of shade, and she often lay under the tree. To insure that she would not be thirsty I had cut a plastic milk jug in half and filled it with water. She would lie near the water as long as the shade permitted. Then she would move across the lawn to a cooler spot.
The morning after Father’s Day I saw the neighbor in a deep conversation with his wife. She was in her truck preparing to drive off to work, and he was standing in the road talking. The lengthy conversation made me wonder what was up.
Finally, the neighbor strode over to my yard. “I have something bad to tell you,” he began. Patches was gone.
Like me the neighbor had been gone away on Father’s Day, and the dog had been free to roam the neighborhood. Another neighbor two doors down the road said he had seen the dog lying motionless in the road about 6:30 PM. She had been struck by a speeding car and did not survive the blow. He laid the lifeless dog on the neighbor’s yard where she remained until that morning.
I walked around the house with the neighbor and saw the little dog’s remains. We talked then and later in the day about her and about her being struck. The wife spoke of their plans to have her tooth pulled.
Just over the fence is a mound of dirt covered with gravel. The neighbor reasoned that the gravel would keep the big dog from digging into the mound. He said he laid the dog on her pillow inside a plywood box.
It took me a day or so to decide to move the little plastic water bowl. Afterward a scripture would come back to my memory to comfort me. It says in Matthew 25: 40, “The king will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’”
Even now I catch myself wondering if I will go out the door and find the little friend waiting. It also makes me wonder where and how I should be doing simple things for the least of these.