I’ve been sitting in my office the past few days working on an adult curriculum for our church’s summer Sunday school. Our Summer Sunday School program is called “One Church, One Book.” We’re using Kate DiCamillo’s book Because of Winn-Dixie, which captures the adventures of young Opal and her dog Winn-Dixie in a small town.
As I’m rereading portions of the book and writing this curriculum, I’m remembering my own pets. Especially my last real pet, Lady.
About 11 years ago, I came back to work after a lunch break and noticed that a black lab was wondering around the building. She was thin, so thin. She showed evidence of having just had puppies, though the puppies were no where to be found. She was shy at first, not sure if she could trust me or not. I went inside, found a bowl and poured water in it. I took the bowl outside and set it out for her. A coworker found dog food somewhere in the building and she put that outside too. After we had gone back in, the lab would finally come get some food and water. And she stayed.
At the end of the day, someone told me I should take her home. I wasn’t too sure about that. While outside, the lab came around, now no longer shy or frightened. I thought, well, if she doesn’t get in the car, then it’s settled. I opened the back door of my car and without a word, the lab jumped in and sat down. So, it was settled. She was going home with me.
This was about the time that Dad was staying home from work because of the prostate cancer he was fighting. I took the dog home, much to the surprise of my parents, and quickly said, “We’re not keeping her. Just for a few days, until I can find a home for her.” And, I was just as quick to add, “Don’t name her. Because once we name her, she’s ours.”
I came home from work a few days later, still unable to find a home for the lab, and she is outside on the deck with Dad. A relationship was forming between this dog and my Dad in those few days. Dad had named her “Lady”. The name stayed, and so did Lady.
Lady became a companion for Dad during those long days of staying home when he really wanted to be at work. In the book Because of Winn-Dixie, young Opal reflects on how she just talked and talked to Winn-Dixie and he listened. Dogs are good listeners. I imagine Dad sitting on the back deck petting Lady and talking things out with her. And Lady resting her black head on Dad’s knee giving him advice in the way only a dog can.
Lady was also my listener during that stormy times of my life. We would go on walks through the woods or play fetch in the yard. After Dad died, Lady still hung around. She would sleep by my bed at night. After one stormy night where she got frightened, she slept on the foot of my bed for awhile. She seemed to fill a gap for me. A gap I didn’t realize I had at the time.
Lady died about a year ago. She was a dog with 9 lives, having survived being hit by a car, a really bad cold one summer, and going blind in one eye. But she lived a good life and was a blessing to me . . .and my Dad.