My father had been a lumberjack in Oregon. He mostly lived the life of an outdoorsman, was sturdy and liked to pit himself against his work, against nature and against other lumberjacks.
But even strong lumberjacks grow old. The ravages of time crept slowly upon him. Dad tried to make a light joke of the first time he could not lift a log; but I saw him a bit later outside, all by himself, stubbornly straining to lift that same log, and again failed at it. He resented any well-intentioned hint to take things a little easier.
A few days after his sixty-seventh birthday, Daddy had a heart-attack. The timely arrival of the paramedics saved his life. Yet something inside him died that day. He lost his enthusiasm for life, refused his medication, and made it difficult for the hospital staff to deal with him. Fewer and fewer visitors came to see him, until finally no one came for him.
After Dad was discharged from the hospital my husband, Dick, and I invited him to stay with us. We lived in a farm and we were hoping that the open space, the fresh air and the peaceful atmosphere would becalm whatever inner troubles he had.
But almost immediately after Dad moved in with us, we regretted the invitation. He was was always criticizing, often sarcastic and insulting. Nothing we did was good enough for him. Eventually all the frustration resulting from having to deal with Dad’s incessant outbursts put pressure on the relationship between my husband and me. We started bickering and blaming each other; and petty arguments spoiled many of our days.
Dick and I asked the help of our pastor who started visiting us weekly. We prayed together, and asked God to grant Dad the inner peace he needed. Our weekly sessions helped Dick and myself find strength together, but our prayers did not seem to help Daddy at all. Weeks passed, his mind was as troubled as ever, and God seemed to have just kept quiet.
I knew I had to do something more. So, one day I tried calling all the mental health clinics listed in the local Yellow Pages and asked for advice. Each one I called was sympathetic and suggested bringing Dad to the clinic. But this I knew he would never agree to.
I was starting to feel desperate when somebody from one of those clinics said, “You know, I read an article about an experiment done recently in a nursing home where patients of chronic depression were each given responsibility for the care of a dog. The patients showed dramatic improvement in their attitude because of that.”
That very day, I drove down to the animal shelter. After I filled out a form, the uniformed caretaker and I inspected the kennels. There were all kinds of dogs (big ones, small ones, black ones, spotted ones, etc.) all yelping and jumping trying to reach me. I did not find myself interested in any of these for various reason (too big, too small, not friendly looking, etc.). Then at the last pen, there was a single dog, and as we approached the dog slowly stood up, approached the front of the pen and sat down.
He was a pointer, but it was obvious he had seen his best days. He was old, thin and did not look handsome at all. But his eyes gently looked at mine and totally got my attention. I asked the caretaker about him.
The caretaker said, “This one is a strange case. He simply appeared at the shelter’s front door and just waited. We thought that whoever brought him here would be back to claim him, so we just took him in. That was two weeks ago, but we never heard from anybody … and tomorrow his time is up.”
The caretaker’s last words did not sink right away, but when he sadly shook his head, I stammered, “…you mean he will be killed?”
With a deep sigh, the caretaker explained, “That’s the policy here Ma’am. We don’t have a place for every stray dog.”
I looked at the dog, and he looked straight into my eyes like he wanted to say something. I then turned to the caretaker, nodded and simply said, “I will take him.”
I drove home with the dog beside me. Then excitedly presented him to my Dad. “Look Dad, what I got for you!”
My father took one look at the dog then gave me a scornful stare and shouted at me, “If I wanted a dog, I could have gotten myself a much better-looking one than this bag of bones! Keep him for yourself, I don’t want him!” Then he started to walk away.
Feeling hurt, I sensed all of my anger suddenly possessing me and for the first time in my life, I shouted back at my father, “You better get used to him, because this dog is staying! Did you hear me, Dad?”
My father turned around and started approaching me, eyes ablaze with anger, his hands clenched at his side and was about to yell back to me when the dog gently wobbled towards him, then sat down before him, looking up at him. My father stopped and stared at the dog as the dog gently put out his right paw towards my father. There was a long awkward pause, after which my father took the dog’s paw, anger gone from his face, then started to gently stroke the dog’s head. It was the start of an intimate friendship. Dad named the dog Cheyenne.
They were inseparable after that. They took long walks around the neighborhood together, amiably greeting people they met along the way. Many afternoons they spent together sitting by the river bank, in quiet, peaceful reflection as they tried to fish for trout. Cheyenne slept beside Dad’s bed in the evening. They even attended Sunday services together, with Cheyenne sitting by the pew where Dad sat. Their companionship lasted three years.
One early morning I was still asleep when I felt Cheyenne’s cold snout seek my hand under the bed sheets. He never did that before. I immediately rose up and rushed to my Dad’s room, and saw him serenely lying still on the bed no longer breathing. He had died a little earlier.
Two days after Dad died, while we were still waiting for the funeral, I passed by Dad’s room and happened to glance at Cheyenne lying very still besides Dad’s bed. I approached the dog but even before I got close to him, I knew that Cheyenne too had passed away. Dick and I buried him by the riverbank where Dad and he spent many hours together.
The following day, after we had Dad’s funeral services, our pastor approached us and gently said “We have to give thanks to God too for the angel that He sent to your Dad.”
I could not help but cry, now suddenly realizing that Cheyenne was God’s answer to our prayers. Everything now became clear to me and dropped neatly into place. Cheyenne’s surprise appearance at the shelter, his total devotion to my father, their dying almost at the same time. God had been quiet but for us it is beyond question that by sending Cheyenne, He answered our prayers.