Dog walker

Richard had been dead three days before his wife even noticed his dog was missing. It was an expected death, to be sure. He was 92, after all. They had made most of the arrangements years ago when they left that church, the one they had always gone to, once it started having modern music instead of the good old-fashioned hymns they had grown up with. If they changed something as big as that, no telling what they’d change next. They might say it was okay for men to start wearing dresses. You never knew.

But since they’d always planned on being buried in the churchyard they had to make other plans now. They considered burial in the backyard but thought twice when they remembered trying to put in the garden years ago. Too many rocks! Emma would have a hard time digging it, and they might not be able to count on the children to help. They were always busy – too busy it seemed to notice when their family needed help.

Jack was Richard’s dog through and through. Sure, he’d answer when Emma called him to dinner, but Richard was the one who pampered him, who slipped him treats underneath the table at dinner. Jack was a Jack Russell, feisty and friendly, and loyal as the day was long. Richard thought it was a clever thing to name him after his breed. It didn’t matter what he was named, it turned out. Jack would’ve followed Richard no matter what he had named him.

They had buried Richard in the grand old Catholic cemetery on the hill overlooking downtown Nashville. That location had been the outskirts of the city when it had been consecrated, but that was a century ago. Sure, he wasn’t Catholic, but it turned out some of his family was buried there and since they were Catholic, that was good enough for the keepers of the cemetery. Emma had found this information out when she was doing genealogy research as a favor to the kids. It was a simple matter of asking at the cemetery (and a donation of course) and space was reserved in the family plot for the two of them.

The house had finally cleared out from all of the visitors and Emma finally had time to breathe. She noticed little Jack wasn’t around. She called, but he didn’t come. He didn’t even bark. Oh well, he’ll have to fend for himself. She can’t be tending to everyone she thought. Who was going to look after her, she thought mournfully? She was so tired after all the hullabaloo of the funeral, and putting up the family that had come to pay respects. They were underfoot for a week! She meant to put Jack out of her mind. But then again he was her last connection to Richard. Where was that dog?

Jack had followed Richard. It was as simple as that. Not his body, of course. That wasn’t who Richard really was. That was just a shell after all. Jack had followed the real part of Richard, the only part that mattered. Jack, like all dogs, could see souls. Dogs knew the soul of the person, could see how it was, and more importantly in this case, where it was.

The moment Richard left his body, he walked silently through the walls of his bedroom right to the corner of the barn where Jack was. The family had gathered by that time, awaiting the inevitable. But they, those somewhat interlopers, had banished poor Jack to his summertime lair in the barn, where he liked to keep an eye on the chickens. He would have rather been by Richard’s side in that time of transition.  Jack was the one who had been by him every other day, unlike his children and grandchildren. Who were they to send him off? He was more family than they were. Family has little to do with blood and a lot to do with behavior.

Richard hadn’t been in a state to argue at the time, but now he could do something about it. He’d taken three days to die, to slide out of his body like one would slip out of work clothes. It wasn’t easy at such an age. He’d gotten used to wearing it, and taking his leave of it was harder than he had expected. Being in a body was a habit he’d had all his life and now he had to give it up, like smoking or drinking. It was for the same reason, of course to be free, to be unencumbered, but just the same it was hard to make the change.

But now he was free of the weight of his body, free to go wherever he wanted, however he wanted, and what he wanted most right now was to go on a wander with his best pal, Jack.  He found him in the barn, and it took some effort to get Jack to notice Richard.  He couldn’t whistle or call to his friend like he wanted – one of the disadvantages of an otherwise perfectly pleasant experience, to his mind.  He wondered what all the fuss was about being dead that he’d heard all his life.  Of course, the people who were complaining about it hadn’t ever experienced it.  It was like complaining about going to visit France before you’d even gotten on the plane.  You had no business having an opinion about a place until you’d gone there. But death, unlike France, was a one-way ticket, and all the residents of that unknown land weren’t the ones saying disparaging things about it.  No, that was the living doing that, and what did they know?

Richard had to learn to use new ways of interacting with his old friend now, but fortunately Jack had been waiting for him.  He was surprised to hear Richard call to him, speaking heart to heart, but not see him.  And then he understood that the change had happened, that it was time.  Jack wiggled and shivered over all his body, not just wagging his tail but his whole self. He was overjoyed to be with his master once again, glad to know that he was free of his failing body. They walked out of the barn together, and towards the setting sun.  They had many mountains to climb together.

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The dog-sitter

monkey baby

It was hard to get good help those days. The Brown family had a bear, a young one, mind you, to tend the children. The Nelsons, however, had a dog. You might say having a dog to keep the children company was to be expected, and it was, but not in this way.

Simon was a spaniel mix of some sort. They weren’t sure. It wasn’t like they got him from a kennel. He was found along with his littermates under their back shed one spring day, all mewling and trembling. All of them were cute, but only Simon was attuned to them.

They’d gone to check on the litter several times, admiring the way the mother was caring for them. This was probably her first litter, but she was doing great, like this was her favorite thing to do. The Nelsons had heard of animal mothers instinctually knowing what to do, and this one sure did. They wondered how it was possible that some “lesser” animal could know more about tending an infant than humans did. Maybe humans did know, they’d just forgotten in the race to be “civilized”. Maybe they still knew, very deep down.

They found homes for the rest of the puppies, but Simon they had to keep. He was too perfect to give away. They’d only briefly considered giving him a dog name like King or Spot, but no such name fit him. He really was like a human in dog form, so they gave him a human name. He was a full-fledged member of the family then, albeit one who slept in the garage.

That was until they had their third child. There was no time for taking off from work, no money for daycare. Mr. and Mrs. Nelson’s parents had died long before they got married, so there were no free babysitters to be had. So Simon would have to do.

He was normally a very serious and sober dog, but he became even more so when they put his uniform on. It was as if he knew he was on duty once they dressed him in his apron and cap.

Simon was the best babysitter they could have ever hoped for. He was alert to every cry and always made sure the baby was warm enough. He’d either drag a blanket over her or just lay down next to her.

There was only one problem. The baby thought Simon was her mother, and refused to even recognize her real mother when she returned home from work. It was as if her own mother was a piece of furniture that moved. She didn’t hate her mother – she didn’t even know her to hate her. Simon was all she’d ever needed and not even known it.

Spirit jump

He was fine, and then he wasn’t. It started as a cold, or maybe the flu. A sore throat and weakness in his hands and feet, the afternoon after work. He thought he was just tired after a long week but it was only Tuesday. Brian felt well enough to go to his job on Wednesday only because that was the end of his work week. If he’d not been off from Thursday on, there would be no way he could have pulled himself together.

Brian owed it to his patients to be at the top of his game every day, to be alert and attentive. Machines couldn’t do it all, shouldn’t do it all. You needed a person to notice the subtle signs of a person regaining consciousness too soon, of them experiencing pain and unable to do anything about it. That was part of his job as an anesthetist, to safely ferry them across the dark waters of that chemical sleep during their operation.

He’d done his job well for seven years. He’d never lost a patient due to his error. Sure, some had died, but it wasn’t his fault. The surgeon made a mistake, an accident happened, a hidden deficit in the constitution of the patient made itself visible. Things happened that were beyond his control.

Some people were barely held together. Some people were sicker than even they realized. A shell, a façade, a thin veneer was all that stood between them and utter collapse. It wasn’t his fault when they died. He just happened to be there, like a bystander at an accident.

It was a little like that on that Tuesday, that meaningless day, that between day. Nothing happens on a Tuesday. The only problem is that sometimes nothing is something. Without noticing, without thought, he was infected by something worse than a virus, more insidious than a disease. It wasn’t even something that would show up on a blood test or an MRI.

It happened like this:

The patient was infected, possessed if you will, by a spirit. It had caught him and was riding him, like how the fleas rode on mice during the bubonic plague. The mice weren’t infected – the fleas were. The mice were just vehicles, taxis if you will. They shuttled the fleas around faster than they could have on gone on their own. In return, the fleas left the mice pretty much alone. They didn’t even know they were being used.

The same was happening here. The patient was the mouse, the evil spirit was the flea. It hadn’t badly affected the patient – that wouldn’t do. You can’t use them up too soon, they’d wear out. Then you’d have to find another one, sooner than you might want.

This was a spirit of complacency, of smugness, of self-satisfaction. It was a belief in a job well done in spite of evidence to the contrary. It was insidious, spawning vanity and a total lack of hubris. It said “all I have accomplished has been by my own hand, and mine alone”. It invited no disagreement and produced no diligence. There was no need to double check your results if you were convinced they were perfect. There was no need to try harder if you knew you were better than everyone else.

It produced vision problems, but the vision was of the heart, not the eye. It made the “mouse” see everyone and everything as lesser than. Instead of being better, it made everyone else appear worse. It made its victim feel higher by making others appear lower. Average was suddenly an accomplishment.

It caused alienation, of course. Nobody wanted to be around a goody-goody and “I Told You So”. And that led to stress, to dis-ease. The problem wasn’t a virus but a victimhood, a sense of lesser than, of isolation. People separated from others became sicker more often, and for longer. Humans were made to live in community, after all.

The patient suffered from stomach problems – losing weight, loose stools, frequent vomiting. It was part of the stress of the dis-ease, the particular form of illness his spirit assumed. The same spirit could cause cancers, or heart disease, or anemia for instance. It didn’t matter. Genetic tendencies were just indications of possible failure, weak spots in the wall of immunity. The disease was just a manifestation of an excess or lack, an imbalance of nutrition, movement, or something more nebulous. “Failure to thrive” isn’t just about infants. A soul lack, an empty yearning, a hole, these wore away at any possible wall a person might have. Aimless, loveless – a life without meaning was a death sentence.

None of this mattered when the last transfer happened. Brian was strong in body and soul, regularly walking on the track and with the Lord. He took care of himself and of his spirit. This is why it was such a surprise when he got sick.
The spirit hadn’t been listening when plans were made for exploratory surgery of its “mouse”. That was part of the specific character of that spirit – an unwillingness to listen to anyone or anything. So it came as a huge surprise to it when the patient began to go unconscious as the anesthesia took over, paralyzing his body so the surgeon could work. It bolted, like a startled colt, unsure, unaware, suddenly stronger than it already was because of fear.
It was afraid, not of dying, because that was impossible. It wasn’t corporeal, so there was no body to die, to decay. No, its fear was of a deeper sort. It was of ceasing to be, of existence itself. The spirit had to be in a body – any body, to exist. This is why spirits resisted being cast out. So when the fog of anesthesia began to cloud its victim’s eyes, it panicked.

Spirits need skin to skin contact for transference. That is how sexual disease spirits infect new people. That is why lepers are segregated. So when the panic gripped it, choking, struggling, it jumped to the one person who was touching its previous vehicle.

This was Brian, the anesthetist, who was holding the gas mask to the patient. The transfer was sudden and sure. Normally Brian would have been immune to such a spirit, but this was not a normal situation. The fear of having its existence snuffed out as instantly as a candle flame, spurred it on, made it more violent. Brian had no chance against this force.
In the same way that mothers gain incredible powers when their children are in danger, the spirit became unstoppable, irresistible. It barreled into Brian the same way a linebacker runs into his opponent.

Brian was very spiritually strong, so the force of the unexpected attack was not enough to knock him down. He felt something shift, slide sideways, and lock. The feeling was a lot like what Obi-Wan Kenobi felt when Alderaan was destroyed – a great disturbance in the force. This was what Brian first thought it was – some outside event, some terrible, horrible occurrence, a victory of dark over light.

It was a month before he admitted he was the one who had been defeated. By then he was unable to work. His gait was slower, his reaction time tripled. He couldn’t respond to sudden changes quickly enough to prevent disaster. A missed a step lead to a fall instead of a minor correction. While inconvenient for everyday life, this inattention could be deadly at work, where patient’s lives were in his hands.

His speech was slower too. He used to be garrulous and outgoing, but now he was unsure if he could remember how to say what he wanted to say. Words were slippery or sluggish or not there at all.

It took him six months of struggle to admit he needed help, even though the doctor still couldn’t tell him what his disease was. He felt a little like the woman in the Bible who had bled for over a dozen years and doctors hadn’t be able to heal her. If only he could be like her and touch Jesus’ robe! In the meantime he’d have to settle for the leash of his therapy dog.

Poem – go walk yourself

How interesting that people will
buy a dog because
they
want to go for a walk.
They know that the dog
has to be walked at least
once a day
and so they have to
take him out.
They get the dog
as an excuse
to go for a walk.

It seems like it would be far cheaper
to forget the dog
and take yourself
out for a walk.

Why do we put more value
on the needs of others
rather than ourselves?
Why is a dog’s need to walk
more important than
the fact that
you
need to walk?

We have all been trained that we
should be
self-sacrificing
and serve others.
But they should not be
at the expense
of not taking care
of ourselves.
There should be a balance
where both happen.

So, skip the dog.
Skip the dog food,
the shots,
the veterinarian bills,
getting her fixed,
taking him to the groomers,
the whole thing.
Skip all of that.

Save your money
and go take
yourself for a walk.

Does your dog bite?

Remember this skit from “The Pink Panther”?
“Does your dog bite?”
“No.”
(reaches down to pet the dog, and it bites him)
“I thought you said your dog does not bite!”
“That is not my dog.”

I just read an article about putting a yellow ribbon on dog’s collars to indicate that they are skittish. The yellow ribbon indicates to people that the dog should be approached with caution. It doesn’t necessarily mean that the dog is aggressive. It can simply mean that the dog isn’t as friendly as could be.

Perhaps the dog is new to the owner. Or the dog has been abused. Maybe the dog is receiving medical treatment. No matter what the cause, it means that the dog should be approached very carefully and cautiously.

I suggest that instead of putting a ribbon on a dog to indicate that the dog should be approached carefully, it makes more sense to treat all dogs as if they are suspect. People need to learn how to approach all dogs that they do not know. Children especially need to be taught that if they do not know a dog they need to be careful around it. They need to learn how to behave in such a manner that will make the dog feel safe. It is better to train people than mark the dog.

So what are some good things to do when you encounter a new dog? This is by no account a definitive list of what to do, but it is a good start.

Stand still, and don’t make any sudden moves. Keep your arms to your sides.

Speak in a calm, quiet voice to the dog.

Do not make direct eye contact – look to the side of the dog.

Notice how the dog is behaving. Here are behaviors that indicate trouble: Hackles are raised. Dog is growling or baring teeth. The dog gets in a fighting stance – lower shoulders, feet wider. Ears are flattened. Tail is low.

If the dog still seems friendly, you can lower yourself to the dog’s level – but don’t get on your hands and knees. You want to appear lower to the dog so you aren’t threatening, but don’t put yourself in a position where you can’t escape if the dog starts to attack.

Let the dog approach you. If the dog chooses not to approach, respect that and move on.

If the dog approaches you, put out your hand, palm down, fingers curled in. This exposes only the back of your hand to the dog. Let the dog smell your hand.

If the dog accepts you at this point, then you may try to pet the dog –but move slowly at this point as well. Try to pet the dog in a way that he can still see your hand. Speak in a calm quiet voice to the dog and don’t make any sudden moves.

Remember, not all dogs need to be petted.
Especially do not pet or call to a dog that is assisting someone. Service animals are working, and it is important to not distract them while they are assisting their master.