As I sit and watch the rain fall on a drippy November day, the first Sunday in Advent, I continue to mourn a home without dogs. We have had dogs surrounding us, silently holding us up for 37 years.
The floors are cleaner, the schedule is lighter, the bills are less. But it is too silent, too clean. When we had our last dog of three put down, we immediately left for out of town to celebrate a wedding. I had an enormous need to do something fun to fill the crater in my soul. I picked up all of his belongings and placed them gingerly on the floor in the laundry room, knowing that I would at some point, need to sort through them--giving some away, tossing a few and putting the rest on Nextdoor for free.
The first weeks, after we had gotten back from the wedding, were especially hard. There was the ice cream bowl left on the floor with no one to lick it clean. The doggie door was permanently shut. There was no debris on the floor brought in by a dog who loved to roll around in the dirt and leaves outside. No more silent nudging with a cute black nose. No more begging for treats. No more collar-jangling to wake us up every morning at 6:30am.
Our world was somehow upside down, disorienting.
I promised my husband that I would wait (maybe) two years before I began begging for another dog. Time to travel without worrying how he was doing at the boarding facility we used. When he was lonely, he would howl, and I recall seeing pictures of him howling while we were out of town. (The facility sent us many, many pictures while we were gone.) Near the end, he howled when I left the house and whined, staring at the door, when my husband left. He was deaf, almost blind and could hardly walk, but he knew when one of us was gone.
This Christmas will be the first that I will not be hanging dog stockings over the fireplace, and it will be challenging when I find his stocking as I begin unpacking the decorations. But I allow myself time to cry and sob, and my husband is always nearby to hold me. I lost my friend, the one who always was there for me when I needed him, the one who could read me better than anyone else.
When I was in chaplaincy, I had many patients who had dogs and who worried about them since they were not at home to care for them. We had some great conversations about dogs, and I’m sure you have heard this one: “Dog is God spelled backward.” Yes, indeed. Where else can you find someone who loves you no matter what. No matter how you smell, you are kissed. And someone who is with you always. You can go out the front door and come in the back door, and it's as if you've been gone all day--you are always welcomed.
In my book, Listening for Life, I share a story about a special dog.
““Blessed are you, Lord God, maker of all living creatures.
You called forth fish in the sea, birds in the air and
animals on the land. You inspired Saint Francis to call
all of them his brothers and sisters. We ask you to bless this
pet. By the power of your love, enable it to live according to
your plan. May we always praise you for all your beauty
in creation. Blessed are you, Lord our God, in all your
—From Franciscan “Blessing of the Pets”
On another busy day, I was charting my patient notes when I
felt a gentle tap on my shoulder. I glanced up and noticed
Suzanne, one of our volunteers standing beside me.
“I just came from the ER. While I was loading the comfort cart
with blankets, I noticed a couple in one of the rooms. They called
out to me and asked me if I could get a hold of a chaplain for them.
Could you go? They’re in pod 36.”
“Of course. I laid down my pen, picked up my note binder
and walked back to the ER. After waving my badge in front of the
doors, I was allowed in and headed for pod 36. When I walked in, a
man in his forties was sitting up in the bed looking a little peaked.
“Hi, I’m Chaplain Pat. I was told you wanted to see me?”
Mr. Tyler said, “My wife is very upset.” That seemed odd to me since he was the one admitted to the ER.
“We wanted to have our dog blessed. She meant so much to my
I could understand her feelings. I have two dogs of my own,
and their faithfulness and emotional IQ went beyond any human’s
ability to intuit.
Mrs. Tyler began to tear up. “Our dog just died,” her voice
cracked. “He’s in the trunk of our car... this has been an awful day.
Now my husband is in the ER.”
My mind tried to make sense of what I was hearing. I turned to
Mr. Tyler, “What brought you into the ER?”
“I was in quite a bit of pain. I guess I have kidney stones,” he
“Why don’t I pray for you?” I ventured. They agreed, and I did.
“Can you bless our dog?” his wife asked again.
“I’m not sure that would...”
“That’s OK. I just needed to ask.”
I wrapped things up and sat down outside his pod to chart
my notes. As I was charting, I heard a very clear mandate in my
heart. “Bless the dog.” Really? I kept charting. Once again, I heard
very distinctly within, “Bless the dog.” I finished my charting and
headed back to Mr. T’s pod.
“I’ve thought about it, and I’ve decided I would love to bless
your dog.” Mrs. T looked up with a tear-stained face.
She led me out to her car in the emergency lot and lifted the
lid of the trunk. There, in the center of the trunk, was a small,
dog-sized box with a lid on it. All around the box were flowers,
several bouquets, in fact.
“We were on our way to the vet to have her put down. She had
been so sick, and we decided it was time. She was fifteen years old.
Before we could get to the vet, she stopped breathing, and then
my husband started having pain in his side. We had to come here
before we could go home.” She gently lifted the lid.
There was a little black and white dog, laying on her side,
wrapped in a crocheted blanket. A blanket someone had made with
pure love. I placed my hand on the dog. “She’s still warm,” I noted
out loud. I prayed with my hand on the dog, thanking God for her
and the goodness and blessings that she had brought to this family.
When I ended my prayer, Mrs. T looked up at me and said, “Do you
see the blanket that’s wrapped around my dog?” I nodded.
“That was my babies’ blanket. We were in an automobile accident
thirteen years ago, and both of my babies were killed. I wanted
Dorothy wrapped in the blanket when we bury her in the yard.”
There was a rush of recognition that moved from my head to
my heart. I wrapped my arms around her and held her while she
wept. “If it hadn’t been for that dog, I would have died from sor-
row. She kept me alive.” My tears were beginning to flow as well.
If I hadn’t listened to the voice, I would have never known this. I
would have missed an opportunity to allow Mrs. T to grieve as she
needed to grieve. I would have missed another lesson in listening
to the still, small voice of God within me.”
--Excerpt from Listening for Life: Cultivating the Courage to Connect, p.128-130.
If you have ever loved a dog, you fully understand what that kind of loss is like. May you continue to find comfort no matter how long ago your loss took place.