My dog has been with me through it all–illness, my parents dying. I couldn't lose him now.
Fumbling with my umbrella in one hand and Spanky's leash in the other, I tried to nudge the front door to my cabin closed with my shoulder. Ow. The rain didn't do much for my usual morning aches and pains, but Spanky needed his walk.
That's one of the good things about having a dog, I suppose, especially if you live alone. A dog makes you get up and get going every day. These days, though, Spanky and I were definitely feeling our ages. It took us a while to get moving.
The rain was coming down in sheets. All of a sudden something made Spanky tug. I lost hold of the wet leash. I reached over and tried to pick it up off the ground. No use. Next thing I knew Spanky was trotting down the road.
I couldn't run after him; I was still sore from a fall down the basement steps a couple of days earlier. "Spanky, come back!" I yelled. "You're going to get hurt!" That was the last I saw of him. He disappeared into the nearby woods.
I doubted he'd even heard me yell. At 15, his hearing was nearly as bad as his eyesight. Some days he needed me to lead him to his water bowl.
He frequently ran into cabinets, the sofa, chairs. He couldn't even get down off of my bed in the morning without help. What would he do all alone in those woods?
I limped home, got into my car and drove up and down the road, calling Spanky's name out the window while the wiper blades slapped out a hard rhythm on the windshield. There was no sign of him.
I thought back to when I'd found him on a roadside nine years earlier. He was clearly a stray, thin and filthy, dodging cars near a local dairy farm. I pulled over and got out. Close up I saw that his shaggy fur was matted with cow dung and covered with ticks.
Still, it was love at first sight. This guy needs me, I thought.
I tried luring him to get into the car, but he wouldn't come. So I went home and got some food to bring back.
Every day after that, I'd toss him a peanut butter and jelly sandwich or a Moon Pie on my way to and from work. And every day at 7:00 a.m. and again at 4:30 p.m., Spanky waited for me at the intersection of Route 52 and Happy Hollow.
One day I couldn't stand it any longer. I bought a 16-inch pizza with pepperoni and double cheese. This'll get his attention . I put it on the front passenger seat, stopped at our meeting place and leaned over to push open the door. Spanky jumped right in, and I took him home.
The vet who checked him out told me that Spanky had been abused. "But we'll get him fixed up," she said.
"Any idea what breed he is?" I asked.
"Looks like he's a terrier and sheepdog mix." I pressed her to be more specific. "The best I can tell, he's a TV dog," she said. "You know, like the ones you see on TV all the time, but you never know quite what they are. One thing's for sure, he's a lucky dog."
Maybe. But I was blessed. The Lord had sent me Spanky for a reason–several reasons.
Spanky never left my side. He was with me while I nursed my broken heart after my marriage of 25 years ended. He understood my wordless grief after both my parents died. I confided in him about everything.
I'd laughed at the "Over the Hill" party my coworkers threw for me on my 50th birthday, but when I got home it was Spanky I opened up to. "I'm scared of growing old and being all alone," I'd told him. "Don't ever leave me."
The day I took that tumble down the basement steps, Spanky came running to my side and licked my face.
Lord, you've got to help me find him! By afternoon I was losing hope. If a car comes, he'll never be able to get out of the way in time. I knew I should go home, but I couldn't bear the thought of walking into an empty house. But I knew I couldn't put it off any longer.
I pulled into my driveway. Once again I begged God to help, this time out loud. "You gave him to me, Lord. Don't take him away now." I walked up to my cabin, feeling more down and alone that I'd ever felt. I'd had so many losses in my life. I didn't know if I could stand another.
Just as I closed the door behind me, I heard a noise. Someone's in the house! I held my breath, not daring to move. There was the noise again, a tinny jingling, like the sound a charm bracelet makes when you wave your arm. It got closer. Spanky walked into the room, dragging his leash behind him.
"I've been looking all over creation for you!" I cried out, not believing my eyes. Spanky let out a long yawn, then wiped the sleep out of his eyes the way he always did after a nap. I fell to the floor and wrapped my arms around him, burying my face in his shaggy fur.
Most folks don't like the smell of a wet dog, but this was the sweetest smell ever.
Soon, though, I wondered how he got back. How did he get into the house? Maybe I really am over the hill. Maybe I'm losing it, I thought. Spanky's return remained a mystery, but I didn't question God too much about it. I was just glad to have my dog back safe and sound.
Then, one night about a month later, a white car turned into my driveway when I was taking out the garbage. I'd never seen it before, but the license plate told me it was a kindred spirit: "LUV YR K9," it read.