I don’t do dog-twitter very much, but I appreciate many of those who do – such as @JonahDispatch – because, well, I love dogs. I always have.
This week has brought my love of those blessings-from-above into crystal clarity because my family lost our 16 year-old Cocker Spaniel on Tuesday. He was a great dog. My wife and I got him while we were dating in the months following law school when I was working as a lawyer for Senator John Cornyn in Washington and my wife was in Texas at a firm.
You see, she is an equal-opportunity lover of dogs… and I am more of a big dog kind of guy (I happily discriminate… sue me). So, a Cocker Spaniel was a bit of a compromise. When we were deciding, we happened upon the little guy at 6 weeks old – and his birthday was August 7th – which happens to be mine, so we were sold. We named him Nelson, after Willie, one of my wife’s and my favorite musicians, and the centerpiece of the night of our first date in Austin, Texas at Stubb’s BBQ.
Now, I’ve had a number of dogs in my life. But, from day one, Nelson was one of those special dogs – loaded with personality, attitude, but that connection that you think only exists in the movies or in books until you actually experience it. We all have dog stories – and I could recount numerous stories involving him – from protectively watching over my son as an infant to his “excited peeing” on the feet of the White House Counsel in my boss’s Senate office (yes). But most of all, he was unique – and well-renowned and loved among our close friends who got to watch after him and share him with us.
But, for me, I will always remember his helping me when I needed it. In 2011, I was battling Hodgkins Lymphoma with a 2 year-old son and a 4 month-old daughter. I was working on Rick Perry’s Presidential campaign (sidenote: if anyone wants to spar about the quality of that human being and what he meant to me and my family in terms of prayer and support, take your nonsense elsewhere).
As my lovely bride was carrying the burden of my illness, raising our kids, and managing our lives – she would understandably eventually need to call it quits at night to go to sleep. So, I would often hang out on a cot in the living room of our little two-bedroom apartment in Austin, Texas and watch re-runs of “King of the Hill” until I fell asleep. But at the lowest point of my chemotherapy treatment before I was declared cancer free, my little buddy – not known really as one who liked to snuggle with you – would hop up in the cot with me to make sure I knew everything would be ok.
And, you know what? It was going to be ok. No matter what happened. Obviously, I wanted to see my kids graduate and walk my daughter down the aisle – but that’s just selfish human interest. Through faith and a recognition of what’s important, I knew it was going to be alright… but I can’t say I knew that the whole time. At some point in the process, in particular one night sitting there with Nelson on my lap and long before getting the “all clear,” I had this sense it would, indeed, be “alright.”
Clearly, I survived.
And, through that experience I developed a bit of a theory – or, perhaps better stated, a feeling – that the Good Lord watches over us through the eyes of our canine friends. There’s really no good reason for their existence other than our friendship, amusement, support, protection, and enjoyment. But I do think that the way we interact with “man’s best friend” reveals a lot about us, and it brought me to the belief that it’s one of the many ways God watches over us.
On Tuesday, somewhat ironically failing from cancer, my little buddy sat with me one last time – as I installed trim around our porch moving up and down ladders. It was something he has witnessed numerous times in now 3 house renovations. I knew what he didn’t, that our vet friend was coming to ease his pain. And as he sat there – with the wind blowing his big ‘ol Cocker ears back – he seemed to be telling me again, “it will be ok.”
Today, I dug a hole in 4 feet of limestone to bury him on our 10 acres under a live oak tree overlooking a great Hill Country sunset view. I may have cussed that rock a few times, to be honest (sorry, Lord). But as I lay my buddy down, and our 4 year-old Labrador “Reagan” sat watching with concern – he was saying again “it will be ok.” The Lord is all around us if we look. Dogs are but one way. But they are most assuredly my favorite way of thinking that God is watching me and looking after me.
To my buddy Nelson, you will be “Always on My Mind.”
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