SHE WASN’T MY DOG. So, as I watched her die at the vet early Sunday afternoon, why did I cry the primal cry, like I did when my brother died of a heart attack a few weeks ago?
I don’t understand the equalizing force of love.
Love doesn’t care if it’s a person or a pet.
But it’s true. I’ve found it true.
While I was driving in my minivan on Monday, I glanced back on the floor behind me. That’s where Juneau lay the day before, while I drove her to the vet for the last time.
I reached back and touched the empty floor. For much of the trip on Sunday, I was reaching back there with my right hand and stroking Juneau, as she struggled to breathe. My son in the passenger seat stroked her soft, black and white fur, as well. So did my wife, as she sat behind me and beside Juneau.
Juneau was a beautiful, beautiful, beautiful Siberian Husky. Not a big dog at all. She was suffocating because of a massive cancer that had taken over her chest cavity. It was larger than any organ in her body. We found out about it only a few days earlier.
Juneau was not my dog. But I took care of her in my home many, many times. She camped outside my office when I put up the baby gate by the door. When I took the gate down, she camped at my feet, under my desk. When I let her, she sat on my lap for a while, as I watched TV. When I fell asleep in front of the TV and woke up at 2 a.m., she was still with me, lying on the floor behind me.
There were five dogs in my extended family, and there have been times I’ve watched all five at once. Juneau was usually the only dog that would stick with me in the late hours.
The Goodbye Saturday
My son invited us all over last Saturday morning, to say goodbye to Juneau.
I couldn’t finish a sentence when I tried talking to my son there.
Juneau in the front yard walked slowly around to all her guests in masked faces. She greeted each one. But she kept wandering back to me as people said, “She’s Grandpa’s girl.”
I figure she knew I was hurting. I’ve found that dogs are incredibly aware of our emotions.
I whispered to her several times. In the yard. Under the distant tree. And in the driveway beside the garage, when I tried to back away so people wouldn’t see how overcome I was.
So did my son. He took a series of photos showing Juneau giving the last kisses she gave anyone. She gave them to me as she licked the tears off my face.
Maybe she just wanted the salt. But I needed the love. So it was a good trade.
Heck, I can’t even write about this without crying.
For the love of a dog?
Do all dogs go to heaven?
I don’t know if all dogs go to heaven, but I pretty well made it clear to God that this one gets in.
I wasn’t polite.
In retrospect, I’m counting on the Holy Spirit to soften that prayer for the Father. Apostle Paul said the Spirit does that:
“We’re weak, but the Spirit helps us. We don’t have a clue how to pray. But the Spirit does our talking for us, using a language too intense for words” (Romans 8:26 Casual English Bible).
The Bible doesn’t talk about animals in heaven, not that I know of. I certainly don’t want many T-Rexes there.
But I’d love to see cats and dogs and birds and fish.
Just about any good thing anyone loves. Shouldn’t that be allowed?
I don’t know if it is.
But there’s a piece of hope I latch on to. Jesus said this about God:
“Listen, compared to God you people are downright wicked. But if you wicked humans can give wonderful gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give you?” (Matthew 7:11 Casual English Bible).
Okay, Jesus, then how about this:
“If you wicked humans can love your pets like that, how much more will your Father in heaven love them?”
And how much more will our Father in heaven love us for loving them?
Love is its own reward. I realize that.
I want more.
I know the beautiful story of the Rainbow Bridge. In the story, people and their pets cross the bridge together to get into heaven. I read a version of the story on my son’s Facebook post about Juneau.
I said to myself, “Would that it be so.”
Sometimes I talk like that.
I guess it’s okay to picture fictional scenes like the Rainbow Bridge. Jesus certainly used fictional scenes called parables to teach us about God’s kingdom and what it takes to be a citizen of that kingdom.
Parables have their limits. I suspect the reason Jesus didn’t sit down and describe the physical aspects of what comes in the next life is because he’d be explaining pockethole joinery to a woodpecker.
Still, I’d like evidence that my dog-loving little brother is looking out for Juneau in heaven. I told Juneau my brother would do that.
If I’ve got my faith right and there is a good God whom we see in the kindness of Jesus, God knows what I’m feeling.
He knows how devastated my son is.
And he knows that Sunday night my four-year-old granddaughter asked him to bring Juneau back to life.
If God is love—as Jesus said he is—what do you think Love would do about all of that?
I don’t know. I’m left to wonder and to hope.
A note to family and friends
Some of you subscribing to these feature articles are family members and personal friends who have looked me in the eye. If you are, and you would like to see the 10-minute video tribute I created about Juneau, send me a note. I’ll send you the link. The tribute is an unlisted video on YouTube. My son has given me permission to show it to family and friends.
Sorry I can’t release it to a wider group. Perhaps that day will come.
Peace to you.