The Old Man and the Dog
by Catherine Moore
"Watch out! You nearly broad sided that car!" My father yelled at me."Can't you do anything right?"Those words hurt worse than blows. I turned my head toward the elderly man in the seat beside me, daring me to challenge him. A lump rose inmy throat as I averted my eyes. I wasn't prepared for another battle."I saw the car, Dad. Please don't yell at me when I'm driving." Myvoice was measured and steady, sounding far calmer than I really felt.Dad glared at me, then turned away and settled back. At home I leftDad in front of the television and went outside to collect mythoughts. Dark, heavy clouds hung in the air with a promise of rain.The rumble of distant thunder seemed to echo my inner turmoil.What could I do about him?Dad had been a lumberjack in Washington and Oregon. He had enjoyedbeing outdoors and had reveled in pitting his strength against theforces of nature. He had entered gr ueling lumberjack competitions, andhad placed often. The shelves in his house were filled with trophiesthat attested to his prowess.The years marched on relentlessly. The first time he couldn't lift aheavy log, he joked about it; but later that same day I saw himoutside alone, straining to lift it. He became irritable wheneveranyone teased him about his advancing age, or when he couldn't dosomething he had done as a younger man.Four days after his sixty-seventh birthday, he had a heart attack. Anambulance sped him to the hospital while a paramedic administered CPRto keep blood and oxygen flowing. At the hospital, Dad was rushed intoan operating room. He was lucky; he survived.But something inside Dad died. His zest for life was gone. Heobstinately refused to follow doctor's orders. Suggestions and offersof help were turned aside with sarcasm and insults. The number ofvisitors thinned, then finally stopped altog ether. Dad was left alone.My husband, Dick, and I asked Dad to come live with us on our smallfarm. We hoped the fresh air and rustic atmosphere would help himadjust. Within a week after he moved in, I regretted the invitation.It seemed nothing was satisfactory. He criticized everything I did. Ibecame frustrated and moody. Soon I was taking my pent-up anger out onDick. We began to bicker and argue. Alarmed, Dick sought out ourpastor and explained the situation. The clergyman set up weeklycounseling appointments for us. At the close of each session heprayed, asking God to soothe Dad's troubled mind. But the months woreon and God was silent. Something had to be done and it was up to me todo it.The next day I sat down with the phone book and methodically calledeach of the mental health clinics listed in the Yellow Pages. Iexplained my problem to each of the sympathetic voices that answered.In vain. Just when I was givi ng up hope, one of the voices suddenlyexclaimed, "I just read something that might help you! Let me go getthe article." I listened as she read. The article described aremarkable study done at a nursing home. All of the patients wereunder treatment for chronic depression. Yet their attitudes hadimproved dramatically when they were given responsibility for a dog.I drove to the animal shelter that afternoon. After I filled out aquestionnaire, a uniformed officer led me to the kennels. The odor ofdisinfectant stung my nostrils as I moved down the row of pens. Eachcontained five to seven dogs. Long-haired dogs, curly-haired dogs,black dogs, spotted dogs?all jumped up, trying to reach me. I studiedeach one but rejected one after the other for various reasons?too big,too small, too much hair. As I neared the last pen a dog in theshadows of the far corner struggled to his feet, walked to the frontof the run and sat down. It was a pointer, one of the dog world'saristocrats. But this was a caricature of the breed. Years had etchedhis face and muzzle with shades of gray. His hipbones jutted out inlopsided triangles. But it was his eyes that caught and held myattention. Calm and clear, they beheld me unwaveringly.I pointed to the dog. "Can you tell me about him?" The officer looked,then shook his head in puzzlement."He's a funny one. Appeared out of nowhere and sat in front of thegate. We brought him in, figuring someone would be right down to claimhim. That was two weeks ago and we've heard nothing. His time is uptomorrow." He gestured helplessly.As the words sank in I turned to the man in horror. "You mean you'regoing to kill him?""Ma'am," he said gently, "that's our policy. We don't have room forevery unclaimed dog."I looked at the pointer again. The calm brown eyes awaited mydecision. "I'll take him," I said.I drove home with the dog on the front seat beside me. When I reachedthe house I honked the horn twice. I was helping my prize out of thecar when Dad shuffled onto the front porch."Ta-da! Look what I got for you, Dad!" I said excitedly.Dad looked, then wrinkled his face in disgust. "If I had wanted a dogI would have gotten one. And I would have picked out a better specimenthan that bag of bones. Keep it! I don't want it" Dad waved his armscornfully and turned back toward the house.Anger rose inside me. It squeezed together my throat muscles andpounded into my temples."You'd better get used to him, Dad. He's staying!" Dad ignored me."Did you hear me, Dad?" I screamed. At those words Dad whirledangrily, his hands clenched at his sides, his eyes narrowed andblazing with hate.We stood glaring at each other like duelists, when suddenly thepointer pulled free from my grasp. He wobbled toward my dad and satdown in front of him. Then slowly, carefully, he raised his paw.Dad's lower jaw trembled as he stared at the uplifted paw. Confusionreplaced the anger in his eyes. The pointer waited patiently. Then Dadwas on his knees hugging the animal.It was the beginning of a warm and intimate friendship. Dad named thepointer Cheyenne. Together he and Cheyenne explored the community.They spent long hours walking down dusty lanes. They spent reflectivemoments on the banks of streams, angling for tasty trout. They evenstarted to attend Sunday services together, Dad sitting in a pew andCheyenne lying quietly at his feet.Dad and Cheyenne were inseparable throughout the next three years.Dad's bitterness faded, and he and Cheyenne made many friends. Thenlate one night I was startled to feel Cheyenne's cold nose burrowingthrough our bed covers. He had never before come into our bedroom atnight. I woke Dick, put on my robe and ran into my fat her's room. Dadlay in his bed, his face serene. But his spirit had left quietlysometime during the night.Two days later my shock and grief deepened when I discovered Cheyennelying dead beside Dad's bed. I wrapped his still form in the rag rughe had slept on. As Dick and I buried him near a favorite fishinghole, I silently thanked the dog for the help he had given me inrestoring Dad's peace of mind.The morning of Dad's funeral dawned overcast and dreary. This daylooks like the way I feel, I thought, as I walked down the aisle tothe pews reserved for family. I was surprised to see the many friendsDad and Cheyenne had made filling the church. The pastor began hiseulogy. It was a tribute to both Dad and the dog who had changed hislife. And then the pastor turned to Hebrews 13:2. "Be not forgetful toentertain strangers.""I've often thanked God for sending that angel," he said.For me, the past dropped int o place, completing a puzzle that I hadnot seen before: the sympathetic voice that had just read the rightarticle...Cheyenne's unexpected appearance at the animal shelter. . .his calmacceptance and complete devotion to my father. . .and the proximity oftheir deaths. And suddenly I understood. I knew that God had answeredmy prayers after all.
Life is too short for drama & petty things, so laugh hard, love truly and forgive quickly. Live While You Are Alive. Tell the people you love that you love them, at every opportunity. Forgive now those who made you cry. You might not get a second time.