“Come on, girl! Time for our hike!” I called one morning from the back door. Mary Jane bounded toward me, tail wagging, eager to get out and explore. Wherever I went, Mary Jane followed.
She ran ahead of me down the familiar logging trail outside my house. Watching her, I remembered that day months before when my neighbor called me to say she’d found a Border collie in her yard. “Do you know who she belongs to?” she’d asked. “I can’t keep her here with my dogs.” I offered to take her in.
I’d welcomed a young dog to accompany me on my daily walks, and this energetic Border collie was the perfect companion. Still, I tacked up posters and searched for her owner. If she had a family, I wanted to find them, but I was already growing to love her. When nobody claimed her I adopted her for my own. I couldn’t believe my good fortune. It was as if God had sent this great friend to me, nearly putting her right in my own yard.
Mary Jane became my shadow, wiggling under my feet when I worked at the computer and sneaking up to my bed to cuddle just moments before the alarm went off in the morning. If I ever felt down Mary Jane would be there, her paw on my knee. And when we walked, we walked with gusto. She loved the deep woods of northeastern Pennsylvania every bit as much as I did. And we had the secluded logging trail and 50 acres to ourselves. We never caught a glimpse of the occasional hunter or nature walker, but the birds and deer and other wildlife surrounded us in abundance.
“Wait for me, girl!” I called. Mary Jane barked, wagged her tail and rushed off again around the bend out of sight.
I heard the crack of a gunshot in the air and froze. “Mary Jane!” I called out. “Come back, girl!”
There was no answer. I sprinted around the bend in the road. Mary Jane wobbled toward me with a lopsided walk, like a bird trying to fly with a broken wing. She fell to the ground at my feet.
A hunter appeared and stared at us, his gun hanging from his hand. Mary Jane died in seconds. Later on I would bury her and take her collar home. Now I just stumbled away in a daze. Hours later I was still sitting on my kitchen floor, my back to the counter. If Mary Jane were here, she’d have her paw on my knee. She’d feel sad with me, share my grief and make it easier to bear. But who would help me mourn her? With Mary Jane gone I had to carry my sadness all alone. I didn’t know if I could.
I heard a voice in my head, directing me. Go. Walk some.
Walk? I thought. It was strange to think my legs still worked without my heart. But I pulled myself off the floor. Where should I go? The logging trail where Mary Jane and I had walked every day? I couldn’t face it without her.
There are other dogs who need walks, I thought. I no longer had Mary Jane to make me feel better, but maybe I could help another dog. The Humane Society wasn’t too far away. If I couldn’t take Mary Jane on one of the walks she loved I could at least bring some happiness to a dog who needed it. Make another animal feel like someone cared, as Mary Jane had made me feel.
I got in my truck and drove to the shelter. A loud riot of barking greeted me as I walked through the door. Some barks were anxious, some excited, some hopeful, some lonely. I could do some good here.
“Would you mind if I took some of the dogs out for a walk?” I asked the person sitting behind the desk.
“Sure, they’d love that.”
I took a leash and walked down one of the cramped aisles lined with cages. A husky streaked like a silver fox caught my eye. I snapped on the leash and he lunged toward the door, eager to get outside in the sunshine. “Better than a cage, right, boy?” The husky pulled me along the road and I ran beside him, feeling numb. He’s having fun, I thought. That’s all that matters.
Other visitors to the shelter left one by one, but I didn’t want to leave yet. I returned to the cages and took out a golden retriever mix. This one wanted to sniff everything along the road outside the shelter. She barely noticed the guy holding the other end of the leash.
I can’t expect them to care about my feelings like Mary Jane did, I thought as I returned a wiggling Labrador puppy to her cage. They didn’t know me or her. There was nothing they could do. The loss hit me again full force. I bowed my head as I walked back down the aisle. I was surrounded by dogs, but the one who cared about me was gone forever.
Someone tapped my shoulder. I almost thought I heard a voice amidst all the barking. “Hey, buddy, what about me?”
I turned to see who it was. The cage beside me held a shaggy mutt, a shepherd/husky mix from the look of him. He’d pulled himself up on the vertical bar of his cage. So he was almost my height. He stuck his paw through the opening at the top and tapped me a second time, looking at me with big brown eyes.
“Aw, you want some attention too, huh?” I glanced at the clock. I still had a few minutes before closing. The shelter was almost empty of people, and the dogs had quieted down. I know how it feels to need a friend, I thought as I took the mutt out of his cage.
“It’ll have to be a quick run,” I said as I snapped on the leash. I expected him to start pulling. But instead of going to the door, the dog stood on his hind legs, lacing his long forelegs around my arms, and looked searchingly into my face. Like he was concerned about how I was doing. This close I noticed something odd about his eyes. One was completely brown, while the other had a blue crescent in the corner, like a teardrop that was about to fall.
He’s crying for me, I thought. That was a corny idea. Dogs don’t cry tears, and even if this one could how could he be crying for me and Mary Jane? I was the only person grieving her, wasn’t I?
But as I drove home I kept thinking about the concern in the dog’s eyes when he looked into mine. That brilliant blue “tear” that seemed to assure me that I wasn’t suffering alone. The weight of my grief felt just a little bit lighter. God had brought me Mary Jane.
Maybe he had brought this dog to me too, to show me how much he cared about all his creatures. I wasn’t the only one sad about Mary Jane. God cried with me, and he wanted me to know it.
The next day I returned to the shelter. A special mutt was waiting for a walk with me. I’d been twice blessed.