"The Old Man & 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 in my 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."

My voice was measured and steady, sounding far calmer than I
really felt.  Dad glared at me, then turned away and settled back.

At home I left Dad in front of the television and went
outside to collect my thoughts.  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 enjoyed being outdoors and had reveled in pitting
his strength against the forces of nature.  He had entered
grueling lumberjack competitions, and had placed often.

The shelves in his house were filled
with trophies that attested to his powers.

The years marched on relentlessly.  The first time he couldn't
lift a heavy log, he joked about it; but later that same day I
saw him outside alone, straining to lift it.  He became irritable
whenever anyone teased him about his advancing age, or when
he couldn't do something he had done as a younger man.

Four days after his sixty-seventh birthday, he had a heart
attack. An ambulance sped him to the hospital while a paramedic
administered CPR to keep his blood and oxygen flowing.

At the hospital, Dad was rushed into an operating room.
He was lucky; he survived, but something inside Dad died.
His zest for life was gone.  He obstinately refused to follow
doctor's orders.  Suggestions and offers of help were turned
aside with sarcasm and insults.  The number of visitors
thinned, then finally stopped altogether.  Dad was left alone.

My husband, Dick, and I asked Dad to come live with
us on our small farm.  We hoped the fresh air and
rustic atmosphere would help him adjust.

Within a week after he moved in, I regretted the invitation.
It seemed nothing was satisfactory.  He criticized everything
I did.  I became frustrated and moody.  Soon I was taking my
pent-up anger out on Dick.  We began to bicker and argue.

Alarmed, Dick sought out our pastor and explained
the situation.  The clergyman set up weekly counseling
appointments for us.  At the close of each session
he prayed, asking God to soothe Dad's troubled mind.

But the months wore on and God was silent.
Something had to be done and it was up to me to do it.

The next day I sat down with the phone book and
methodically called each of the mental health clinics
listed in the Yellow Pages.  I explained my problem to
each of the sympathetic voices that answered in vain.

Just when I was giving up hope, one of the voices suddenly
exclaimed, "I just read something that might help you!
Let me go get the article."  I listened as she read.

The article described a remarkable study done at a
nursing home.  All of the patients were under treatment
for chronic depression.  Yet their attitudes had improved
dramatically when they were given responsibility for a dog.

I drove to the animal shelter that afternoon.  After I
filled out a questionnaire, a uniformed officer led me
to the kennels.  The odor of disinfectant stung my
nostrils as I moved down the row of pens.  Each contained
five to seven dogs. Long-haired dogs, curly-haired dogs,
black dogs, spotted dogs all jumped up, trying to reach me.

I studied each 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 the shadows of the
far corner struggled to his feet, walked to the front of
the run and sat down.  It was a pointer, one of the dog
world's aristocrats, but this was a caricature of the breed.
 
 
Years had etched his face and muzzle with shades of
gray.   His hipbones jutted out in lopsided triangles.
But it was his eyes that caught and held my attention.
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 the
gate.  We brought him in, figuring someone would be right
down to claim him.  That was two weeks ago and we've heard
nothing.  His time is up tomorrow. " He gestured helplessly.

As the words sank in I turned to the man in horror.
"You mean you're going to kill him?"

"Ma'am," he said gently, "that's our policy.
We don't have room for every unclaimed dog."

I looked at the pointer again.  The calm brown eyes
awaited my decision.  "I'll take him," I said.  I drove
home with the dog on the front seat beside me.

When I reached the house I honked the horn twice.  I was helping
my prize out of the car 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 dog I would have gotten one.  And
I would have picked out a better specimen than that
bag of bones.  Keep it!  I don't want it".  Dad waved
his arm scornfully and turned back toward the house.

Anger rose inside me.  It squeezed together my
throat, my muscles and pounded 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 whirled angrily, his hands clenched
at his sides, his eyes narrowed and blazing with hate.

We stood glaring at each other like duelists, when
suddenly the pointer pulled free from my grasp.
He wobbled toward my dad and sat down in front
of him.  Then slowly, carefully, he raised his paw.

Dad's lower jaw trembled as he stared at the uplifted paw.
Confusion replaced the anger in his eyes.  The pointer waited
patiently.  Then Dad was on his knees hugging the animal.

It was the beginning of a warm and intimate friendship.
Dad named the pointer Cheyenne.  Together he and
Cheyenne explored the community.  They spent long hours
walking down dusty lanes.  They spent reflective moments
on the banks of streams, angling for tasty trout.  They even
started to attend Sunday services together, Dad sitting
in a pew and Cheyenne 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.  Then late one night I was startled to feel Cheyenne's
cold nose burrowing through our bed covers.  He had never
before come into our bedroom at night.  I woke Dick, put on my
robe and ran into my father's room.  Dad lay in his bed, his face
serene.  But his spirit had left quietly sometime during the night.

Two days later my shock and grief deepened when I discovered
Cheyenne lying dead beside Dad's bed.  I wrapped his still
form in the rag rug he had slept on.  As Dick and I buried him
near a favorite fishing hole, I silently thanked the dog for
the help he had given me in restoring Dad's peace of mind.

The morning of Dad's funeral dawned overcast and
dreary.  This day looks like the way I feel, I thought,
as I walked down the aisle to the pews reserved for
family.  I was surprised to see the many friends that
Dad and Cheyenne had made, filling the church.

The pastor began his eulogy.  It was a tribute to
both Dad and the dog who had changed his life.
He then turned to  
Hebrews 13:2  and said, "Do
not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by
this some have entertained angels without knowing
it... I've often thanked God for sending that angel."

For me, the past dropped into place, completing a puzzle that
I had not seen before: the sympathetic voice that had just
read the right article, Cheyenne's unexpected appearance
at the animal shelter, his calm acceptance and complete
devotion to my father, and the proximity of their deaths.

And suddenly I understood...
I knew that God had answered my prayers after all.
 
 
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Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby
some have entertained angels unawares.  
Hebrews 13:2
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