My husband, Wayne, walked in the door that night looking totally beat.
He loved his job—he was vice president of sales at the machinery company where we both worked—but lately in this economy he’d been putting in more hours than usual. Long, stressful days plus coping with his father’s failing health, all the pressure was taking a toll on his well-being.
Wayne kept coming down with sinus infections and, worse, he was dealing with hypertension too. I worried he was headed for a heart attack. Thank goodness for Annie, our little black poodle mix who had an uncanny gift for soothing Wayne’s soul and blood pressure.
Wayne and I don’t have kids but we have each other, and we have the dogs. Four of them! We didn’t plan on having that many. Still, strays kept finding us and we just couldn’t turn them away.
Dinnertime was an assembly line of bowls. Walking them was like a circus act and we were at the vet as often as most folks go grocery shopping. Yet we felt sure God meant for each of them to be part of our family: Bogey, a golden retriever-corgi mix; Gus, a skinny-legged tri-colored mutt; Buster, a big black Lab-coonhound, and of course, Annie, the smallest but the undisputed leader of the pack, the alpha dog.
We had found her seven years earlier at the office, running across the wet grass in the rain, obviously in need of proper care. After several unsuccessful days of searching for her owner, we were thrilled to call her our own.
She and I loved each other but it was clear Annie was Daddy’s girl. She was devoted to Wayne and didn’t really like it if the other dogs got too close to him. When Wayne walked out of a room, she immediately followed. When he left the house, she waited patiently at the stair landing until he came home. If he wasn’t feeling well, she’d lie on top of him protectively, as if she were saying to the others, “Don’t bother Daddy. I’m taking care of him.”
Wayne set his car keys on the counter. “Come here, girl,” he called. Annie padded over, her tail swooshing wildly. He scratched her behind her ears and she gave him a big kiss. The tension in Wayne’s expression eased.
I couldn’t help but notice, though, that age was catching up with Annie. She moved a little slower these days. Her naps were longer and more frequent and she was going gray around her muzzle. My worries flared again. Wayne wouldn’t be able to take it if something happened to Annie.
A few days later, I got to work before Wayne. I was settling in at my desk when he darted in. “There’s a dog in front of the building,” he said. “He looks hurt. Can you take a look at him?”
I went outside and saw a stocky black-and-tan dog standing on the concrete, motionless, staring ahead, as though he were waiting for someone. As though he’s waiting for us, I suddenly thought. It was the strangest feeling.
“Hey, buddy,” I said, bending down to his level. Now I could see he was in bad shape—fur all dirty and matted, his right eye seriously injured. I stroked his fur. Oh, Lord, what do you want me to do? It’s not like Wayne and I could take this stray—another dog would be way too much for us to handle.
Just then, the compact little dog tilted his head and his gaze locked with mine. That strange feeling came over me again. I scooped him up and took him straight to the vet.
The vet did a thorough exam. “His right eye is so badly damaged, it has to be removed,” she said. “He also has a hernia. He’ll need surgery for that too.”
“Anything to make him better,” I said.
The surgery was a success. We took him home and introduced him to the rest of our furry family. Annie looked him over. She didn’t bark at him bossily. That was a surprisingly good sign! Bogey, Gus and Buster sniffed him curiously. But our one-eyed stray just walked away from the pack.
“Here, boy!” I called, holding out a treat. No reaction. He didn’t show the slightest interest in the plethora of dog toys—balls, Frisbees and squeakers—that lay scattered on the floor. No response to treats or play? He must’ve had a sad life before. Lord, I’m sure you brought this dog to us for a reason. Help me to understand it.
Slowly he came out of his shell and began palling around with the other dogs. He took an intense liking to a big red plastic ball and loved to nose it along the fence in our backyard. And boy, did he love to dig! Several times a day he’d come bounding through the back door straight toward the water bowl with globs of mud and grass stuck in his paws, even in his mouth.
We bounced around ideas for his name. Then it came to me: He was short and stocky and had a fondness for middle earth…he had to be named Hobbit!
“Perfect,” agreed Wayne. “That’s what we’ll call him.”
Hobbit had been with us about six months when I noticed something else about him. Something strange. He was totally bonding with Wayne. If Wayne was reading a book, working at the computer or watching TV, Hobbit would jump on his lap, sprawl out on his back, and snore away.
And Annie, our overly protective Daddy’s girl? You would think she’d have a fit, yet she didn’t mind a bit. She never barked at Hobbit, never tried to keep him away from Wayne. In fact, when Hobbit snuggled in the crook of Wayne’s arm in bed, Annie would lie at the foot of the bed, ensuring that the other dogs didn’t get too close. When Wayne was with Hobbit, I saw the same calmness in his face he had when he was with Annie. Like his stresses had melted away.
It would be another three years before I understood the significance of this and why Hobbit had come to us.
One day I was petting Annie and noticed that her lymph nodes were swollen. We took her to the vet for tests. “I’m sorry,” she said when the results came back. “Annie has an aggressive form of lymphoma. She doesn’t have much time. Maybe only a couple of weeks.” Wayne couldn’t say a word; he just squeezed my hand tight.
Just a few days later Annie had trouble breathing. The time I’d feared had come. We had to say goodbye to our beloved girl. Wayne and I brought her to the vet and held her one last time. Lord, take good care of Annie. And help us through the pain of losing her, especially Wayne.
The dogs grieved too. Bogey, Gus and Buster wandered through the house, seemingly lost without the leader of their pack.
But not Hobbit. He seemed called to a purpose. He’d climb into Wayne’s lap and let Wayne hold him, sometimes for hours on end. Day by day, he soothed Wayne’s soul and the weight of sadness lifted from our home. When Wayne’s father passed a few months later, Hobbit never left Wayne, comforting him as only he could.
Sometimes it is those who have been wounded most deeply, both humans and animals, who become blessed with the gift of being healers. Who knew a short, stocky, one-eyed stray could bring so much peace to our grieving family? Annie knew, and so did the One who brought her, Hobbit and all of our dogs into our lives, to care for us as much as we care for them.
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