Generally Speaking: For the love of D.O.G

By MARILYN TINNIN COLUMNIST,

Note: I will just have to tell you up front. This column is a flashback. I have been sorting and gathering old pieces as I work on my No. 1 Bucket List item – a book of life lessons for my grandchildren.

I think everybody ought to know what it is to love and be loved by a dog. If you are a dog person, you understand. If you are not, then you might want to stop reading right now!

When Charles and I married eleven years ago, we each had a Corgi. We used to tell people that our dogs brought us together. That is not a complete joke. But that is a story for another day.

The column below is at least ten years old, but when I read it today, I liked its message. I hope it will resonate with you, too!

My cell phone rang late the other night. Nobody calls me on my cell phone late at night or early in the morning except my daughter Betsy…and never when the news is good. In between sobs, she told me that her ten year old Black Lab was having difficulty breathing. A trip to the animal emergency clinic had revealed a large tumor around his heart. The cancer was definitely in his lymph nodes as well. He was in pain and the vet’s advice was to put him down.

He spent the night at the hospital and she was to pick him up the next morning to take him to his regular vet to do what she did not think she could bear to do.

Betsy’s life has never been dull – ever. She is the child who turned every hair on my head white before I was 40. (Thank you, Lord, for hair color). Sometimes it seems like her best friends are named Crisis and Drama. In between those two events, however, she can keep a room alive telling her real life stories that keep us all laughing.

But all I could do was cry with her that night. I searched for the consoling things a mother is supposed to just, by instinct, be wise enough to say, but I could not find any words at all.

My heart so hurt for her as the invisible movie screen in my mind played flashback memories of this dog my daughter so loved.

It was in her senior year of undergraduate school at Samford that I entered her apartment and saw a huge wire kennel in the middle of her living room. I sent up an SOS prayer, “Oh, Lord, please let this dog belong to Betsy’s roommate.” But I knew better from the very beginning.

Walker, named for Herschel Walker the University of Georgia running back and Heisman winner, had come from the Birmingham Pound and was small enough to sleep in one of Betsy’s shoes…when he wasn’t chewing them up, that is. He grew to be the size of a small black bear and I never understood how petite Betsy managed to “walk” him. My one attempt at walking Walker required an ambulance ride to the hospital, a cat scan, two broken front teeth, and more. It wasn’t that he was bad…he was just enthusiastic about life and completely unaware of his size or strength.

He did not like having to ride in the backseat when I visited.

When Betsy was in grad school in Tuscaloosa, the entire staff at the local McDonald’s looked forward to Walker’s weekly drive-thru visit for his Happy Meal.

Betsy and Walker have been inseparable this last decade. Walker has comforted her when there was no human being in sight to comfort her. Through boyfriends, several career changes, numerous interesting roommates, several surgeries, and a close call with the MRSA staph, Walker has been there.

But Betsy has been there for Walker, too. I will never forget the time he was hit by a car and she was on 280 with Walker on the backseat, sobbing into the cell phone to me as I stood in my kitchen 250 miles away. She couldn’t remember where the animal emergency clinic was and could I please call 911 in Birmingham and get the directions for her. It was touch-and-go that weekend with IV’s and internal bleeding, but I firmly believe Walker’s sheer will to be with Betsy worked in his favor. He just did not think she was ready to handle life without him.

The second vet has given him a special medicine to buy a little time although he tells Betsy it is very little time – maybe days. Walker is eating, showing some responsiveness, and even played with his Lab friends Luke and Maggie yesterday. I am amazed that Betsy can be so brave knowing the inevitable outcome. But she wants that time with her faithful friend, and I so understand.

It’s just one of life’s ironies that something that brings so much joy can bring so much pain as well – I am talking about love.

It’s really very dangerous to love – to give your heart away with such abandon – whether to another person or to that pet whose love is about as pure and unconditional as any love God ever allowed us to know. 

When it comes to saying “goodbye,” I think the term “broken heart” is just the perfect description because letting someone precious go does indeed leave a heart feeling shattered into pieces.

But you know what? I would rather live dangerously and cherish the good times than to be safe and miss the joy of love given and received.

…But the greatest of these is love…I Corinthians 13:13b

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