Dog Days

Last month, there was a “National Dog Day.” It also happened to be the first day of school. A momentous day to be sure.

Our dog, Dexter, is 12 (and a half) years old. He’s a great big ol’ chocolate lab that we got exactly one month after Earl and I were married. “What honey, you didn’t know that about me? You didn’t know that I love dogs more than most humans and that I needed one like, yesterday?”

What a way to break in a new marriage. (Eh, it all worked out.)

I love this dog. Just the other day, we were trying to think of all of the nicknames we’ve I’ve given this dog: dexter-dooze, (and derivatives such as: dooze, doozie, doozie-dooze, doozie-boy, detter-dooze, detter and MY fave: “mayor doozie-pants”).

But also: Boy-boy, chitter-pops, smiley-face, shnukums, monkey-moo-moo, shnarf-shnarf, smiley, FRIEND and barkey-boy. I have songs for him too, but that’s another blog post. BTW: Are there any DA meetings out there? (Dogs Anonymous). I clearly have a problem. And CLEARLY I need an animal intervention.

Anyway, Dexter. He hasn’t been doing well. Mentally, he’s been going downhill for years. He can’t remember that he’s eaten. Or he can’t remember why he wanted to go outside. Hubby would say he was born “dumb.” (The only Labrador Retriever who never retrieved.) Couples argue over bigger things.

A few months ago, Dexter got a bout of pneumonia and he just hasn’t fully recovered. He had been physically healthy up until that point, but I really thought that this was the end of him. We managed to help him through that,  but I fear that the high doses of medication taxed his liver, and now he walks around looking like a baby calf. His abdomen is bloated. He has a hard time getting up as a result and he walks funny. He doesn’t “ask” for food anymore. He sleeps most of the time. You get the idea.

We’ve given up on walking our dog. He can barely make it to the end of the driveway most days, let alone the stop sign down the street. But on this beautiful sunny day, on National Dog Day, I decided to hop on my bike for a short ride. I saw Dexter in the yard. He greeted me, looking a lot perkier than usual. I said, “Boy-boy, do you want to go for a walk?” And he started WALKING…toward the STREET.

I put the leash on (not that he’s capable of running away) and we headed down the street. I could see he was SLOW. He was breathing HARD. I got to the neighbor’s house and said, “Okay Detter, time to turn back home.” NOPE. He continued on. “Fine, let’s go to the stop sign” I said, as if he could understand me. (Dogs Anonymous). I proceeded to the stop sign. And he CONTINUED ON. Now I really could have forced him to turn around. But I really felt like he was taking me somewhere. There’s a river down the street and we’ve brought him to wade in the shallow part, only to have to carry him up the hill again.

I let him lead, and as I suspected, he lead me to the river. Only he didn’t lead me to the shallow part of the river. He lead me to the place where the kids rock-jump and swim. It’s a direct downward slope, over big rocks and the water is over our heads. At least 6′ deep.

Knowing I can barely get this dog up 5 stairs at night, and knowing that what “goes down, must come up,” I was seriously conflicted. My brain was saying, “No. Jana, you KNOW this is not a good idea.” And my heart was saying, “This dog wants to SWIM. This dog wants to feel like a PUPPY again. And he worked so HARD to get here. And this might be his LAST HURRAH!” When I saw his ears perk up at the sound of the rushing river, my heart won over logic. I took off his leash, and he barreled down the hill toward the water. I remember thinking, “eh, we’ll figure out a way to get him back up.”

By the time I got to the river, he was already in the water. SWIMMING like a PUPPY! I hadn’t seen him this active in months. And I couldn’t help but think that the water was therapeutic to his achy body. I cried tears of JOY (for reals). PRAISING GOD for this moment because this had been a dog that didn’t do much other than sleep these past few months. This was his moment to SHINE.

I sat on the edge of the river, enjoying the splendor of a beautiful day. I watched Dexter, as he tried to find his footing. None.  (Remember: 6′ deep. Over his head in most places. Out of shape, senior dog). He eventually settled by the rocks where he was safe. And I remember thinking, “Oh, so cute. He’s resting.”

You might guess what kind of dog I had at this point.  A happy dog? Yes. A tired dog? Sure. A wet dog? Of course. You know what else I had?

A STUCK DOG.

Stuck dog. He's slightly embarrassed. Notice how he will not look me in the eye.

Stuck dog. He’s slightly embarrassed. Notice how he will not look me in the eye.

That “resting” period turned into 20 minutes. And my coaxing could not get him back to the location in which he entered the water, which was the location where I thought I’d have the best chance of getting him OUT. I even threw rocks into the river: “Doozie GO GET IT.” (because our labrador retriever never actually RETRIEVED. He only chased after rocks. THAT SINK. (please revisit paragraph #6)

I GOT INTO THE WATER. Biking clothes and sneakers on. No cell phone, but I’m pretty sure my biking helmet was still on, because that’s how impulsive this decision was – to take Dexter to the river. I PUSHED this dog. I PULLED this dog. I even bribed him with promises of peanut butter, “cookies” and “pupcakes.” This 75 lb. bloated lab was NOT coming out of the water.

I knew Earl was on a run and would be returning home soon. And if he left for work, I’d miss my chance of getting help. I gave one last heave and realized my efforts were going nowhere. I quipped out loud, “I need help.” (Way to state the obvious, Jana.)

So I ran (okay I walked part way) home and I burst into the house. Running up the stairs and into the bathroom where Earl was taking a shower.

ME: Earl? I need your help.
EARL: Do I need to get out of the shower?
ME: I did something VERY foolish.
EARL: DO I NEED TO GET OUT OF THE SHOWER?
ME: Yes. I think so. Please don’t be mad at me. I am CONFESSING MY SINS HERE! I did something very foolish.

(insert story about the senior dog who doesn’t make it up the stairs AT ALL and needs help being pulled from the river. And not the SHALLOW part of the river, but the STEEP, HILLY, DEEP part.)

I ran back to the river and waited for Earl to arrive. Dexter was chittering from the cold (hence the nickname “Chitter-pops”). Earl arrives on the scene and proceeds to LIFT the 75 lb. wet, lame dog from the water. Now remember, he doesn’t just have to lift him out of the river. He has to carry him all the way up the hill because this dog is DONE. And so our conversation went something like this:

ME: Earl this is your weight training for the week.
ME: Earl, you’re doing great!
ME: Earl, you are SO HOT!
ME: Earl, I’m so sorry. I was so foolish. But this dog SWAM. And he was a PUPPY AGAIN! And I shouted out PRAISES TO JESUS. And THINK of the story we’ll have to tell…

So we got to the top of the hill, but we still have a bit more to walk home. The hard work is done. But please recall that this dog is ALSO DONE. So I ran (with some more walking ) to get the car at home. Earl picked the dog up a final time and loaded him into the back. Our car ride conversation went something like this:

ME: Earl, you SAVED me. Thank you so much for saving me. This was such a foolish idea. (Note the “foolish” theme?)
EARL: Sometimes these things happen.
EARL’S BRAIN: (um, no they don’t. I have no idea why this happened.)
ME: But he SWAM and PUPPIES and la de dah…
EARL: Are those your new running sneakers that are wet?
ME: Um, yes. Dexter and I had a conversation about that.

MY POINT OF THE STORY: When I was in Africa, our team leader asked us every night: “Where did you see Jesus today?” I love that question. Because we see Jesus through the actions of others every day. Earl could have easily condemned me that day. I WAS foolish. It was not a wise decision to take that dog down to the river. Earl took his own personal time to bail me out of a sticky situation. And it was hard, physical work. But I saw Jesus in him that day. Loving, kind and merciful. No condemnation. (Romans 8:1)

I am so thankful for the grace that he shows to me daily. So thankful that he loves me unconditionally.  I’m talking about the one whom I’m married to, and the One who created me.

And just think, of the story we have to tell…