If Dogs Have A Heaven…

New Year’s Eve was not a good day for me or my family. I had to do one of the hardest things I’ve ever done; I had to put my dog down.

Heaven holds a place for dogs.

She had contracted lymphoma and it was killing her.

Leah was a beautiful dog, part Chocolate Lab, part Irish Setter and I think a bit of hound dog, too. Her medium short coat was bright reddish-brown, and her eyes matched.

I didn’t really deserve such a great dog. She found me.

My wife and I were in Pine Mountain, Georgia, one cold November day. We went into an antique store and were greeted by this beautiful dog. As soon as she heard my voice, she attached herself to my side and followed me all through the store.

She had a special grace about her. She didn’t walk so much as she glided. She was very dignified, very regal. She carried herself with the poise of a show dog.

“This is a great dog you have,” I said to the lady running the store.

“Oh, she’s not ours, she’s a stray,” she said. “We just let her in here out of the cold and so the pack dogs don’t attack her.”

“You mean someone dumped her off?” I asked incredulously.

“As far as we can tell,” said the lady. “She’s been wandering around here for a week now and we try to feed her, but we can’t keep her here at night, so we don’t know where she goes.”

The whole time we were talking, Leah (our son named her after Princess Leia of Star Wars fame) sat politely at my side, looking up at me with those big, brown eyes.

I am generally more of a cat person than a dog person, even though I had plenty of both growing up on a farm in Wisconsin. I like dogs but always felt more kinship with cats.

But this dog had something very special about her. She was only about 2 years old, but those eyes held wisdom and knowledge and feelings far beyond her age, or even her species.

My wife and I left the store. Leah just sat by the window and watched me walk away. My wife and I were both very quiet as we drove away.

“That was a beautiful dog,” I said to her. She agreed.

“It is a crime for someone to just dump a dog like that. It’s criminal,” I said. She agreed.

Here is where my wife and I have different memories of what happened next.

I recall that I said, “I think we should go back and get her and take her home.” She agreed, and we turned our truck around and did it.

She recalls that I did say that but insists we didn’t go back until the next day. I’m pretty sure I’m right, because I don’t think I could have tolerated the dog being another night on the street in the cold with packs of dogs after her.

Since I’m writing this, we’ll go with my version. Either way, we went back to the store and walked in to tell the owner we’d take the dog off her hands. I swear Leah was sitting in the same place I’d seen her when I left. The lady was overjoyed.

When I opened the truck door, Leah did not hesitate to jump right up onto the middle fold-down console and sat regally, almost in a pose, just like she had done that every day of her life. She pivoted her head towards me and grinned as if to say, “I knew you’d come back.”

The rest is, as they say, history. She blended into our family of two teens, one tween, a Peek A Poo and a half-Siamese/half Tabby cat we had also adopted on another cold November day.

Part of my justification in bringing Leah home was for our 11-year-old son, Alex. The Peek-A-Poo was dedicated to our teenage daughter; the cat was attached to whomever he pleased, whenever he wanted, as cats will do.

I remembered growing up, having larger dogs like Leah, and I knew how much it means for a boy to have a dog.

Of course, nobody had asked Leah, and we soon found out that her opinion made a difference. She had chosen me as her person, and though she befriended my son and made him feel safe, if I was in the room she would constantly be at my side.

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