March 22, 2021

Goodbye, Old Friend

A friend of mine reminded me that this space still exists. I hadn't really forgotten, but I also hadn't really thought about it in a few years, either. 

And I feel like this belongs here. 

We had to say goodbye to Jeb last week. I promised SoldierMan I wouldn't write a 10 page eulogy, and that's not what this is. But the blog post telling the story of how we got the dogs is still on my "most popular post" list there on the side, which is wild to me. So this is for y'all - those of you who may still be around 😂 - you've been with us and the puppies since the beginning. Since before! Wow! 

For those who don't know, Jeb developed squamish cell carcinoma - skin cancer - inside his nostril. It's a non-metastasizing cancer, so unlike the cancer you're probably thinking of, it doesn't spread to internal organs and kill you itself. It's deforming and degenerative, but typically when a spot pops up, you just cut out that particular spot, and that's that, until a different spot pops up. Unfortunately, because Jeb's was inside his nose, that typically superficial procedure would become an invasive one. And even if we were inclined to spend $$$$ on a surgery to treat it, he was 10 years old, and there was every possibility that the treatment would be more harming than the disease.

So we put him on painkillers and tried to keep him as comfortable as we could. Honestly the worst part was that he didn't act sick, or old. He was still playful, full of energy, annoying Achilles like crazy because Jeb wanted constant togetherness. 

In the end, though, the cancer began to obstruct his airways too badly, and to cause chronic infections in his skin. I'll spare you the details. But even for a cheerful dog, it was not a great life. 

So last week, I took him to the vet and said goodbye. SoldierMan and the kiddo stayed home, because #covidthings, because we didn't want Achilles to be left alone, and because I just didn't want the kiddo there anyway. 

Jeb was my first dog, so this was a first time experience. And really it went as well as you could hope for - considering in the end, my dog died. But true to form, he sat holding my hand while we waited for the sedative to take effect, and he fell asleep smiling. 

Because of course he did.

All of that is my catharsis to bring Jeb's story to closure in this space. 

That's part of why I'm here.

The other part is to take a step back and reflect on how I knew God better through Jeb. 

For a few years now, I've begun noticing particularly in the Bible how God talks about animals. It's led me to a lot of questions. Why, when Adam was lonely in the garden, did God begin the search for companionship by parading all the animals by? They were ultimately rejected as mates, obviously. But still, it happened. Why did God put animals on the ark with Noah? The typical response is "so people  would have something to eat!" But why did God make his rainbow covenant to never destroy the earth by water with Noah AND with the animals? Why did God tell Jonah He was hesitant to destroy Ninevah on account of the great number of people AND animals? And why, when the people of Ninevah repented, did they put sackcloth and ashes on their animals as well? What on earth to animals need to repent of? Or does our sin taint creation quite that thoroughly? And how does all creation praise God? Why did God say the cattle on a thousand hills belongs to Him, if cattle was only created to basically be plants with blood (food for humans)? We could probably go on with other examples.

For some people this isn't a question. For most of my life, it wasn't. For most of my life I was more than ambivalent toward critters. Zero feelings of sympathy for animals, really. I see now what a gap that left in my psyche. I remember years ago, a friend tried to tell me that raising your kids with pets was a significant part of psychological emotional development, and I ridiculed her for it. I'm pretty ashamed of that now, not only because I was wrong. 

But what I keep coming back to most is Romans 1: "since what can be known about God is evident among them, because God has shown it to them. For His invisible attributes, that is, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen since the creation of the world, being understood through what He has made. As a result, people are without excuse. For though they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God or show gratitude. Instead, their thinking became nonsense, and their senseless minds were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man, birds, four-footed animals, and reptiles. Therefore God delivered them over in the cravings of their hearts to sexual impurity, so that their bodies were degraded among themselves. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served something created instead of the Creator, who is praised forever. Amen."

So I ask myself now, what invisible attributes of God did I learn from spending 10 years with Jeb?

The obvious ideas would be faithfulness, nearness, unmerited forgiveness. Jeb had all those in spades. Everyone knew I couldn't even walk around the house without him in my shadow, hearing his nails click-clack behind me. In the last year or so he wouldn't even start his day unless he had given me a good morning "hug" by wrapping one paw around my leg and rubbing his face on me. For the first time in years, now, I have no bruises on my legs, and it's a little sad.

But there are other things, too. One of the big ones I can think of is answered prayer. Over the years taking care of these dogs, God answered many small prayers for their health and safety, which grew into bigger prayers for bigger issues. At the end, God answered prayers for discernment and peace as to when to put Jeb to sleep, not a day too late. It was a proving ground for building confidence in coming boldly before the throne in other areas of life. If a sparrow, or a dog, doesn't fall without God seeing it, how much more can I feel safe leaving issues of the soul in His hands.

I also learned about stewardship. The cattle on a thousand hills belongs to the Lord, and so did Jeb, really. He was my dog, but he was really God's dog. I was just taking care of him. We talk all the time about how puppies are good practice kids, and this is one aspect in which that's true. Our kids don't belong to us either. We're stewards of their minds, hearts, and bodies for a period of time, but then we have to let them go. And in the end, they stand before Yahweh God on their own, without us at their shoulder whispering the right answers in their ear. On a smaller scale, the "practice kids" taught me that, too.

I cried because it was over, but I am also smiling because it happened. I didn't even want a dog, I certainly didn't want my own stinky, snarffly shadow that (bless his heart) didn't even understand why we got upset when we ran inside with muddy paws. But I got so much more than I expected from that weird little coyote-dog puppy in El Paso. 

You're probably wondering right now, how are Achilles and the kiddo doing? 

Well, SoldierMan and I were pretty torn up, thanks for asking 😂

The kiddo, she loved Jeb but he was always my dog, more than the family's dog. Achilles is more of the family's dog, at least as far as she's concerned. (He considers himself SoldierMan's dog, but I don't know if he has a choice at this point.) I think she misses him more than she realizes, and we're all trying to be a little extra patient with each other.

Achilles was confused the first couple of days. Every now and then you can see him searching for something, not finding it, and then settling for his ball or a toy. He's eating and playing like normal, for his elderly self. "Normal" for him has become sleeping 18 hours a day and complaining when I talk too much - so not a lot of change there. 

I'm not going back to check this for typos, or put in citations, or anything. I'm ready to close the book here and walk out. I can't promise when or if I'll come back here. A lot of the stuff on this site could be removed (and probably should) and the world would lose nothing. Also I'm busy doing stuff-and-things. But if you came by and can say hi, I'll be glad to see you for a minute :) 


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