I could talk for hours about that dog. How he used to "knock" on the door to let me know it was time for our jog. How he knew the difference between friend and stranger, greeting my friends with affectionate enthusiasm yet barking protectively at anyone potentially threatening. Of his love for hiking with me in the wilderness, and how he frolicked, dashed, and danced through the meadows. About the time he foolishly charged at a moose, and the time we lost him on the trail. How he delighted in a fresh snowfall, springing joyfully through the drifts. How he loved car rides, and would stand in the console on his front paws to nuzzle and cuddle me as we drove. About his floppy ear, and how everyone adored him, not only for his overwhelming handsomeness, but for his pure and golden heart.
I'd never really been a "dog person." Much to the contrary: I favored cats. Anyway, cat or dog, I didn't have time for a pet. I took long trips away from home and often went away for the weekend.
And then a stray dog showed up in our neighborhood. Everyone else had enough pets already. My landlords were trying to decide whether to feed him or take him to the shelter. I'm still not really quite sure how it happened, because I wasn't interested in animal adoption. But somehow, the neighborhood kids prevailed upon me to keep him, promising to look after him when I was away. Looking at the canine tied outside my screen door, I shook my head, not believing that I had just adopted a DOG of all pets. Still, I had to admit he was pretty cute. With his thick, long coat, he looked like a bear. I knew his name instantly: He was Kodiak.
He had come at an emotionally trying time in my life. Six days previously, I had called it off with a guy I had been casually seeing for a few months. Now, I felt lonely and unwanted. Then came the dog, and he did have one good quality: He wanted my attention. We started jogging together every day—sometimes twice. In the evenings, I'd sit in my yard and stroke his fur and just hug him. He seemed to understand and hug back, leaning against my chest and resting his head on my shoulder. After all (Heaven only knows why), he too had been abandoned...alone and unwanted. It didn't take long to fall in love with this angel dog. He had a darling personality, and I knew God had sent him. Through him, God reassured and encouraged my hurting heart—and let love and happiness return to my world.
That first summer I was so paranoid of losing him that I kept him on a leash or chain almost perpetually—even out in the wilderness. Nobody was going to wrench that lifesaver from me! He tolerated my protectiveness, but I knew he'd be happier off his chain. He had such a free spirit, and he wanted nothing more than to be exploring or else right next to me. When I had to chain him several feet away, he howled and wined till I tied him up closer.
The first backpacking trip we took together, my dad slowly taught me to let him be free to run in the wilderness. Dogs like Kodiak, he told me, were meant to run free and wild. I soon discovered that when I let him off the leash, Kodiak still wouldn't stray far—and when he did, he'd be back to check on me. I grew to love watching him bound freely through the woods and meadows, nothing to hold him back—no damper to his joy. Off his leash, Kodiak nearly burst with bubbly, exuberant energy.
We spent three wonderful years together...almost. I took him everywhere I could, and felt terrible when I had to leave him behind. As I cherished him, I learned to like other dogs, too. Still, none of them could compare to my Kodiak. He was the best dog in the world, and I depended on him to always be there and love me.
And then the day came. A girlfriend and I had a planned a snowshoeing "date," and of course Kodiak would be coming along. He could hardly contain himself that day, so excited to be heading into the mountains with me. As Jessica and I got our backpacks ready, he whined in the car, wanting the adventure to begin. Then, he jumped into the front seat and out the open door.
Once outside the car, he explored the little parking area, totally uninterested in the vehicles trickling past. Finally, we set out down the road to pick up the trail. I had his leash, but the highway didn't seem busy, and we didn't have far to go. Besides, Kodiak was being obedient and staying on the side of the road.
Then one of us stooped to retie a shoe, and I took my eyes off him. He bounded across the road, to the snow drifts. As he jumped from drift to drift, I couldn't remember ever seeing him happier. He made me grin. So much energy and joy.
Then in one fated moment, he plunged down the snowbank to cross back over to me. Just then, a truck rounded the corner.
That scene has haunted me now for a year. Even as I write, I have tears streaming down my cheeks. I just couldn't believe it. No, not now, not my precious Kodiak. I had just broken up with my (much more serious) boyfriend a month before. I needed my doggie hugs and jogs. Oh, why hadn't I put him on the leash? I felt like a murderer.
Then something unthinkable happened. At the sound of my voice, Kodiak raised his head and scooted over to me on broken legs. He would cross that road and be next to me if it was the last thing he did.
I knew he couldn't last long. Stooping next to him, I stroked his beautiful fur and told him I loved him and was so sorry, that it wasn't his fault. Then we loaded him into the back seat and headed for the vet. Trembling, I listened for his belabored breaths.
Then my angel raised himself up, struggled forward, and rested his front paws and his head on the console, looking up at me with loving, hurting, yet unaccusing eyes. "Oh buddy," I choked. "No, no." I didn't want him to use up his strength. I wanted the vet to be able to fix him. But he insisted on being there with me. Weeping, I patted his head and told him I loved him.
He stayed there a few moments. Then he crawled into the back seat, nestled onto the floor, and breathed his last. Only then did I realize what he had just done. In one of the most loving gestures I have ever witnessed, Kodiak had told me of his devotion to his undeserving master. One last time, he had told me he loved me.
That night I couldn't sleep for anything. The darkness was too still and quiet without his barking lullabies. I didn't know how I would ever face the neighbors. If only I would be the only one to suffer from the loss of my treasure...but Kodiak had been everyone's dog. All my friends loved him. They would all be devastated. Ashamed, I kept thinking of that poor wounded dog I thought had already died lifting his head and crawling over to me. Looking up at me with those big trusting eyes, not accusing me of my horrific negligence. Struggling to get close to me to say his last good-bye, his eyes saying nothing but "I love you, sweet master." I couldn't understand it. Why did he love me so much?
Suddenly, as I gazed in imagination into those riveting eyes, the picture changed. Now it was Jesus dying on the cross, with the same big brown loving eyes. Only, He knew I was the one killing Him. He threw Himself in the road for me. And even though He understood it all, He just wanted me to know that He loved me anyway.
A transcendent moment.
Awestruck, I let the mini vision soak in. The death that I've caused 10,000 times over is so much more heinous than the foolish yet unwitting failure to keep my dog from harm's way. But Jesus loves me anyway, and He's willing to bear the brunt of all my sorrows, even the ones that I cause. I couldn't understand it, but I found myself in awe of that love.
I still miss my buddy terribly, but I've clung to that vision of divine love. And, though I tremble to admit it, I dare say it has been a fair trade.