I remember it as if it were yesterday. It was a warm day, and the sky was so blue that it drew you to it like iron shavings to a magnet. There were clouds in the sky, but they were so faint that it seemed as if the hand of God had feathered them with an unseen brush. Just the sight of it could cause one to lean back on a hillside and gaze; as an astronomer does at a constellation for hours. Yet we had little time for sky gazing; you see we were on a mission.
Maybe God has pets here to teach us about the brevity of life and the process of grieving.
We were on the hunt for a dog for my wife Judy’s sister Kim, and we aimed to complete our task. As I pulled into the car wash, Judy was busy pouring over the ads in the local paper searching for the right pet. That was when she spied a free ad for a puppy. Immediately she called, and I hurriedly finished washing the car. She yelled, “Don’t waste any time — there are other people who called asking about the dog.” Soon we sped off to find Kim’s dog. As we pulled up to the curb, Judy raced across the street to nab the puppy. As she picked him up, another car pulled to the curb, but they were too late; we had finally walked off with Kim’s new pride and joy. We were overjoyed just to have accomplished what we thought might be an impossibility. Kim’s dog was in our possession and ready for delivery.
It would be a while before we could deliver the dog since Kim lived over two hours away, so we put up with the creature until we had a chance to deliver him. Judy had called Kim twice to tell her the glorious news of the pup. We were all excited about the new addition to her family. The hard and fast rule was that we were not keeping the dog. No way; we had a hard enough time raising the kids. We certainly didn’t need a dog!
And yet that all changed one evening as I lay on the floor in front of the TV and Kim’s dog came and laid his head on my chest. He was so gentle and at the same time so cute that I automatically reached out and began to stroke his ears and pet him almost unconsciously. He laid there as if in seventh heaven enjoying every moment of this newfound attention. I was hooked, but what was I to do? It was Kim’s dog, wasn’t it? I told myself over and over as if trying to convince myself saying, “Besides our youngest son was getting quite attached to him.” In truth, it wasn’t our youngest son Chris, it was me, but how was I going to tell Judy, and how was she going to tell Kim?
About three weeks later, I cornered Judy and said nonchalantly, “I don’t think Chris is going to give Kim’s dog up that easily,” as if Chris had come to me pleading and begging. Judy saw all the signs of one in love with a dog long before I ever said anything to her. I could see it in her eyes. They were saying, “Who do you think you are fooling?”
You know women–they have a sixth sense, and she had me dead to rights. It wasn’t long before Judy ended up calling Kim after that conversation and told her not to get set on having the dog. And that was how Kim’s dog became part of the Spinnati family. In fact we called him Kim’s dog for weeks after we decided to keep him before we named him Nick. That became a 16-year love affair with a pooch named Nick. In all the years we had Nicky, I could count the times on one hand that he didn’t go everywhere with us. In fact, it was a package deal. If you saw us, you saw Nick.
You know you get attached to animals so much it is as if you could claim them on your income taxes. He was a part of the family–the one who greeted you as you came home from work or school. He was the one who never passed judgment on you and was always there with uplifted eyes and a wag in his tale. He even helped me to clean up the occasional food that was spilled on the floor before Judy could find out about it. He was a trusted friend and a great companion that would stick closer to you than a brother. He was the one when you had a bad day that would nuzzle up against you and give you all the love you needed. He didn’t criticize, complain, or finagle; instead, he was always there just waiting to brighten your day.
The problem with pets is they don’t live as long as humans, and sooner or later, you are going to be faced with the inevitable, death. We don’t look for it; in fact, we dread it, and yet it is always on the horizon. Death is lurking as an unwanted “visitor” and a reality of life. Maybe God has pets here to teach us about the brevity of life and the process of grieving. Death is the one word that no one wants to pronounce, and yet it is a sure reality that cannot be stopped. So it was true for Nicky and our family. Our faithful pet began to reach old age. He didn’t get around as well as he once did, and his weight began to decrease. We knew it was a matter of time, and we dreaded the hour. We were going to an evangelistic meeting in London, England to preach in various places around the city, and we left Nicky with some friends. We even designated a place to lay him to rest if something should happen to him before we returned, and yet we believed that Nick would still be alive when we arrived at home. Maybe if truth be told, we hoped he would still be with us because we knew that he wasn’t in the best of shape.
While we were gone, Nicky passed away and was buried on our property. Our friends didn’t tell us because they didn’t want to ruin our trip. When we were told, there were tears, regrets, and memories that will never expire. We never were able to say goodbye to our beloved Nick. Even today there is a void that just can’t be alleviated. We loved that dog and that dog loved us. It is still hard to talk about it even today. You might say that is crazy, but that is just the way it is. You see, love never evaporates. It is always there whether it is for a pet or for family and friends. There is an ache that just can’t be soothed.
Nicky taught me the value of life and living each day for what it is worth. He taught me that sometimes the greatest moments in life are not the ones that are wrapped in great accomplishments; instead, they are the simple ones. These are the ones we take for granted. These moments are the ones we are too busy to enjoy at the time, but they are the ones we dream about and wish we could have once again. We wish, “If I just had it to do over.” And yet our do over’s are done with. The only thing we can do now is use this new foundknowledge that we have gained with our grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
It is sad how we rush through life trying to raise our children, and when they are grown and gone, we now wish for the simpler times when we could tuck them into bed once again, read a story to them, have them sit on our lap, kiss them on the cheek, and hear them tell us how much they love us. Now as time has passed, we dream about chasing the children through the house, playing hide and go seek, and taking a “safari” around our property chasing fireflies in order to “magically” create a ring that glows in the dark. It was a time when they looked up at us with wondering eyes thinking we were the greatest mom and dad of all. We reach in our mind’s eye for a time not forgotten as we see their triumph as they ride their new bike for the first time without training wheels. And who can forget how talented we thought they were when they presented their first Mother’s Day card created in kindergarten that spelled mother in macaroni? A simple hug and a kiss would be sufficient to make our day now, and yet at the time, we were too busy with life to enjoy life. It somehow escaped us that the simple pleasures of the here and now are more important than our job or our own self-importance.
Why am I writing this? I am writing this so you will take time to hug your kids, pet your pets, smell the flowers, enjoy a second cup of coffee and appreciate life. If I could do one thing right now I would give anything for Nicky to rest his head on my chest so I could caress his ears one last time and tell him what a great dog he is.