On Dying Like a Dog

I started this blog before I knew there was such a thing. I conceived it as a light-hearted look at the joys and frustrations of living amidst the rubble and renewal of an on-going renovation. I figured I’d salt it with tid-bits of our lives and sprinkle in some of the lessons I would learn about being content. I never intended this blog to be about grieving.

But life has a way of unfolding unexpectedly. Twists and turns bring us to unintended destinations. I believe God brings things into our lives with the intention of changing us.

“If to love others is one of the two great purposes for which we human beings have been given breath, then blows that soften our hearts and experiences that teach us how to find our peace in God must be necessary indeed.”

~Dr. Robert Rayburn.

And so, again I’m telling a story of loss. Not as great a loss as the death of our son, but a very real loss in its own way.

On Saturday, November 8, our dog Ursa lay down on the driveway for the last time and breathed her last. She was 11½ years old.

When we made our move to the country in May, 2003, it took only a few nights of listening to the yipping and yowling of coyotes before we realized we needed a dog. We learned of pups being given away, pedigree unknown, at a local gas station.

One spring evening, we stopped in at said gas station. Maybe we made an incongruous picture as eight of us, including our sons and daughter ages 5 to 18, piled out of our 15-passenger van. Maybe we felt a tad uncomfortable, not even sure this was a gas station, with no sign in front and a circle of young, smoking guys turning to stare unsmilingly at us. Maybe Monsieur smelled pot as we passed them.

One of them showed us to the back where a tawny-haired female barked at us threateningly. The puppies were about 8 weeks old, black with gold markings. While the kids checked out those that ran around our legs, I noticed one pup cowering in the shelter of an old car. We all agreed this shy and fuzzy dumpling should be the One.

When I asked what breed she was, the guy who was showing them said, “Cross between Australian shepherd, lab and mumble, mumble.” We happily brought home our pup and named her Ursa since she looked like a little bear.

Timo, 5, with Ursa (Minor) - he'd been hoping for a "bigger one, sharp teeth."

Timo, 5, with Ursa (Minor) – he’d been hoping for a “bigger one, sharp teeth.”

It was many months later that we learned what the “mumble, mumble” part of her heritage was. The owner of the gas station raised wolves, much to the townsfolk’s irritation with their eerie howling, and our dog’s sire was a purebred.

Pictures never do justice to dogs. Their noses look out-of-proportion enormous if you shoot from straight on. Their teeth, simply menacing. Unless the lighting is just right (which I never seem to manage), a black dog is simply a black blob. And no photo can ever do justice to the silky friendliness of a floppy ear or a warm furry back.

Monsieur has often marveled at the strangeness of animals living in relationship with humans. Why does a predator like a cat or a scavenger like a dog have fur that is a pleasure to their humans? How is it that a dog or horse, so much more powerful and dangerous than we are, will obediently do our bidding? It brings to mind James 3:7,8,

“For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and creature of the sea is tamed and has been tamed by mankind. But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.”

A warning, certainly.

And how does a dog know that a child needs it, as Ursa seemed to know, staying right with our then six-year-old Down Syndrome son when he wandered a mile from home through the neighbours’ bull pasture one summer evening?

We have many happy memories of our dog – her fondness for honey toast, her gentleness in taking treats from our fingers, the indignity of being dressed up in hats and hoodies. There was the entire box of chocolates she found on the coffee table and devoured in moments when our back was turned one Christmas. All that food meant weight-gain, leading to our daughter-in-law’s nicknaming her, “The Hairy Coffee Table”.

In defending her home, she endured skunk spray and porcupine quills. Terrified of thunder, she also cowered from guns and anything that resembled one — cameras, binoculars, vacuum hoses… In later years, she did her duty remotely, her rumbling bark coming from under the deck whenever her arthritis made getting up for visitors too difficult.

Ursa’s death is a blow, coming so quickly after the second anniversary of the death of our son. But it’s a blow that’s meant to soften our hearts. Soften them to animals, yes, but most importantly toward people. All our memories of her are tied to our memories of people. She was a lovely dog, inextricably bound to our family. So how do I find contentment in loss?

It’s not death we are commanded to be content with. The Bible tells us death, not just human death, but all death, is an enemy and someday it will be finally defeated.

“…the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.” (Rom. 8:21) “The last enemy that will be destroyed is death.” (1 Cor. 15:26)

 Contentment is found in trusting the promises God  has made.

It’s found in knowing there’s a hope for the future.


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One Response to On Dying Like a Dog

  1. She sounds like a wonderful dog. My sympathies on your loss of a faithful companion.


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