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The Old Man and the Dog
November 12, 2013|Post of the DayStories

The Old Man and the Dog

The Old Man and the Dog

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.

4 comments
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4 comments

  • mike
    November 15, 2013 at 7:45 am

    God always answer our prayers !!

  • Tariq Mouy
    January 2, 2014 at 3:42 pm

    Dogs are the human’s best friends .. everyone should have a dog

  • March 16, 2014 at 4:55 pm

    I shared this story with the hope that in a small way, this story could help convey to those who have never experienced what profound relationships which can exist between a dog (or perhaps any pet) and its caretaker. For those who may have never experienced that love, trust and companionship, I feel that they may be missing out on what may very well be the purest, most benevolent exchange of love available in this world. I recently watched a documentary about the history of the dog/human relationship. The latest evidence as documented by social anthropologists and archeologists, very strongly supports the theory that mankind lived a completely nomadic lifestyle up until the point at which as the evidence shows there became (likely within three generations of man taking in the first wolf cub) a symbiotic relationship between what became ‘canines” and man. This relationship shifted our collective history with no other rival that I am aware of. The relationship so changed our history that it can be said that it was actually the beginning what we now call “civilization”. It was stated in this documentary that having canines within “the tribe” enabled much more successful hunting, but the main benefit was that it enabled primitive man to have the ability to cease following herds as nomadic people and actually begin to maintain their own livestock and the very first permanent dwellings. Man has only discovered in return (for the wolf’s contributions to our society) very recently through the relatively new practice of studying wolves as opposed to killing them on sight at every chance, that the wolf pack operates very much like an idealized version of human city-states or societies strive toward. If humanity were to hold to their ideals as well as the wolf does to her’s, we would all be immeasurably better off. Wolves mate for life and if a partner is killed, the remaining mate may very well remain alone and will not breed again with another wolf (there probably are few exceptions of coarse). In a wolf pack, only the apha male and female breed and the entire pack pitches-in to help teach, protect and feed the cubs. When a wolf from the pack becomes old or injured, the pack will continue to feed and care for the injured animal. That they are natures regulator in that they eat the old and sick of the prey animals which aids in huge ways and is imparative to the maintenance the incredibly delicate balance that is our earth. It is one of the greatest examples of irony I can think of, that we collectively as indo-Europeans have taken the stance in everything from fairy tales to popular culture, that wolves are simply ravenous killers of babies and have actually (as if I’m surprised) attempted to exterminate them as a species, and yet to now find that we owe them a huge debt of gratitude for being an integral part of our own evolution…not to mention the part about wolves being an idealized version of us.

  • March 18, 2014 at 6:12 pm

    This was a wonderful story…God knows what we need and when we need it! My husband was a dog lover. We have had many dogs most loved was Pepper a yellow lab who was the constant companion of my husband. And of course our Razr a black and white Siberian husky/wolf mix. Razr is still with me but sadly my husband is not. I have a pic of my husband holding Razr in his arms bringing him home to us. I will never forget how devoted they were to each other.

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