For the Love of a Dog
In April 2020, during the height of the pandemic, we adopted two hound-mixes, brothers, twins, littermates - the largest and the smallest of the litter. The smaller, the one whose photo captured our hearts and summoned us to the Humane Society of N. Myrtle Beach, we named Forrest. The larger, of course, had to be Forrest’s brother for life - “Bubba.” These were not my first dogs, but they were my childrens’ first dogs and my first time having two dogs at the same time.
The dynamics were remarkable. Bubba was immediately the alpha and they both knew it. Forrest would not cross Bubba, or “Bubs,” for anything - not for a treat or even a bite of table food, a rub, nothing. They both knew who was first, always. Both were photogenic, with their brown, black and white fur, but Forrest was smoother and softer, with spaniel-like fur. Bubs’ fur grows slightly more coarse, although both seemed to shed equally.
To say we loved them would be an incomplete summary of our feelings, our devotion, our affections and our care towards them. They were members of our family. Due to the pandemic, we did very little traveling, but they did spend a few days in a hotel room with us when we listed our home for sale and needed to be out of it to keep it ready for “open house.” They spent six weeks with us in an apartment between homes, and they traveled to Myrtle Beach with us on an impromptu trip.
At the end of July 2022, we had another quick trip to Sumter, SC for my nieces’ baptisms and since we were only going to be gone overnight, less than 24 hours, we thought they would be fine at home. We set them up with the door that led from the garage to the backyard propped open. We brought their kennel to the garage and I laid a piece of extra carpet out for them because Bubba required something soft to lay upon. We brought out food and water and tried to ensure they would be comfy and safe. Forrest was a fence-jumper, so he always needed to be connected to a run. I hated to restrict his freedom, but it was for his safety. He would jump the fence and follow his hound dog nose and playful instincts to other neighborhoods, entirely. We connected him to the steps in the garage, but made sure he had enough length to reach the grass in the backyard. We moved everything we thought could pose as an entanglement. We left them outside for about 30min before we departed to make sure they were set for the evening. They had never slept outside, but they had the garage and would be fine.
In Sumter, we had a blessed time with family. Three of my four nieces were baptized. At the same time, our marriage was suffering greatly. The Lord saw fit that the young man who sang at our wedding be present and sing during the service. In fact, the reason we left the dogs home alone was because my husband rarely traveled with the boys and myself. This time, he decided to come with us. Prior to this, on Friday, I asked him if he would ride with me to see a slave cemetary behind a local church and to my shock and amazement, he agreed. 8am we left the house, I was driving, and as we approached a busy intersection, we could see that a car accident had just occurred - a pickup truck was resting on its roof. I asked my husband, a former sheriff's deputy, if he wanted to help as no officials had yet arrived. He said yes. I pulled into the median and he climbed out. He helped the couple in the SUV over to sit on the curb, and the man in the overturned truck climbed out holding his side. He was angry and started yelling at the couple accusing them of causing the wreck. My husband was trying to direct traffic and keep them separated and calm. Then the angry man went digging in his upside-down glove compartment and I feared he had a gun. I put the window down and signaled to my husband, who was looking directly at the man, but seemed not to fear his life. I squeezed myself back into traffic to move to the other side of the collision and at the same time we began to hear sirens - thank the Lord. My husband saw where I had relocated and he came to the car. We came back home. My husband who had been angry with me for 2 months, who had not spoken to me in 2 months began to talk. It was a miracle.
In Sumter, with full stomachs and dreading the 2-hour drive home, our next door neighbor messaged me to ask if we were okay because our dog had been barking since about 11pm. We knew that was Forrest. Bubba was not easily agitated, and rarely barked. We hurried to pack our bags and get on the road. I was driving. My husband called his daughter to ask if she would go to our home and check on the dogs. She was in a Zoom meeting, but said she would go as soon as it ended. About 30min later she called and spoke to her dad. I wanted him to put the phone on speaker, but he didn’t. He kept asking clarifying questions to help her distinguish which dog was which. Then he hung up…and said nothing. Finally I was like…”are you going to tell me what she said?” He sighed. “She said she thinks Forrest is dead.” Even to type that now, over a month after the fact, I cannot take it. Everything, every emotion, my whole world comes crashing down, even now! No, not my baby! Not my Forrest! What! Why! How! We weren’t gone 24-hours. I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe Ariah. Maybe Ariah didn’t know what a dead dog looked like! How? What possibly could have happened. I sobbed while speeding up the road. He asked me repeatedly to pull over. I didn’t want my son to know, but I was sobbing loudly, so he had to know something was bad wrong. Then my older son’s girlfriend called to ask me what was happening because my son in the backseat had texted his brother and he was hysterical. I couldn’t talk, but told them I would call as soon as I knew something for sure. We pulled into the yard and I ran to the backyard and immediately knew my baby dog was dead. I couldn’t fathom it and still cannot today. My husband and our neighbors buried him and our neighbor brought a cross with his name on it.
It’s a blessing that in my lifetime, thus far, I have not experienced much death. I still have my parents, my children, my sisters, nieces, nephews, friends, etc. All of my grandparents are deceased, but all lived good, long lives. My 1st cousin, Ken, however, in 2000 took his own life and it took me years to heal from that. I felt like I should have seen it coming, I should have called him more, I should have continued writing to him when I knew he was stressed. Years. While Ken’s death was sudden, I was removed. I was not the person responsible for him. I did not set him up for the night and try to make him comfortable and safe. My dog was like a child to me. Forrest was a dependent, more dependent than Bubba. Without us protecting him, Forrest would have hurt himself long ago. I’ve asked God why. Why he couldn’t have just been exhausted, why He couldn’t have given him 1 more hour of life, why he had to die without his people, why he had to die in distress. He became tangled around a large, heavy flower pot and couldn’t get into the garage where it was cooler and where his water was located. In true Forrest form, he barked, got upset and barked some more. I think he had heat exhaustion and physical exhaustion because knowing him, he was probably also trying to take off his collar, chew through the leash, all of it. I miss my baby dog everyday.
In the month since losing Forrest, I’ve come to realize that God is God and I’ll never fully understand His ways. We grieve because we love. If we do not love, then we would not grieve loss of life. Our days are numbered. We must make the most of everyday the Lord gives us on the earth. We must tell those we love how we feel because tomorrow, nor next weekend, are promised. I’ve realized that God is gracious to those who love Him. For me, He enabled me to figure out Forrest’s cause of death. He knew that not knowing this would have driven me mad. He took Forrest, but did it in such a way that I could pinpoint the time and could easily see the cause. It does not make me feel better to know that if I had moved that flower pot or if I had checked to see just how far he could reach, that he might still be alive, but I don’t have to wonder. I thank God for that. I typed into my notes app on the evening of Forrest’s death: “When you love and care for something or someone, the last thing you ever want is for it to die.”
While there is absolutely nothing that would have eased the pain of losing Forrest, I do live a fairly transparent life on Facebook, and I wanted to post about it. This was not because I wanted the sympathy or the comments, actually, I wish Facebook had a feature in which we could disable comments. I wanted to post because there would never be another picture of Forrest posted and I wanted everyone to know why, generally, at least. I couldn’t post because 3 days before Forrest's death, my friend woke up to find her husband dead in the bed next to her. How could my grief compare to hers - not that I was comparing. Hurt is hurt. I couldn’t post because while I likened Forrest’s death to losing a child, both of my children were alive and well. I attended the funerals of 2 friends' young children last year. Forrest was just a dog…but I loved him dearly. The day after Forrest died, one of my friends who had buried her daughter in December, sent me a text - out of the blue. She said I had been on her mind all day and she felt the Holy Spirit prompting her to reach out to me. This is an example of love from the God we serve. I was trying to minimize my hurt by telling myself Forrest was just a dog, but He sent someone, also grieving, to comfort me. While I immediately realized the connection the Lord had made, I replied to her thanking her for reaching out, but didn’t tell her of my situation. I felt the love of the Lord, but didn’t want her to think I (or even God for that matter) had the audacity to compare my dog to her daughter.
I’ve realized in the month that has now passed:
1) Death is final, no amount of bargaining, thinking what if, what would have, could have or should have happened can change it.
2) It hurts. It’s the worst feeling ever. It is the polar opposite of joy or love or peace.
3) We can do everything right and still meet death.
4) Comments like “I’m sorry,” “My condolences,” “May the peace of God be with you,” are not helpful at all. The only true consolation is time.
5) God is in control. Our lives and all of the creatures He created are in His hands. When He decides to call us home, we are going - we don’t get another day, another hour, or another minute. Within 2 hours of his death Forrest’s body was in the ground. For Jesus to have been dead - dead - for 3 full days and rise again and live, is truly a miracle that only God can perform. If you do not believe in Jesus, as Lord and Savior, the time is now. The only way to live an everlasting life is to believe in the One who died and lived again. If you don’t believe in Jesus, you are spiritually dead right now. The only way to know true joy and love and peace is through Him. Won’t you give your life to Him today?
Dear Lord, I want to know You. Lord, I want to dedicate my life to you. Lord, please forgive me of my sins. Lord cleanse me of my sinful thoughts and desires and ways. Lord transform me into your child, forever.
If you prayed that prayer, you need to find a Bible-based church to join so that your new faith in Jesus can be nurtured to grow. If you desire my help, please don’t hesitate to send me an email at email@example.com. I don’t know why I shared this, but I’m told I have a way with words. Maybe my story of grief will help someone. Amen.