Clear blue skies, a brisk breeze that hinted of cooler days to come, a brilliant sun that had you sweating with a few minutes of exertion - it was a perfect day for a most unpleasant task. A gift, I'd say.
He showed up at our house in rural Pike County 14 years ago, a hungry, mischievous bundle of puppy energy. A vet estimated he was about six months old and we spent the money to have him neutered, thinking we'd spare the world of the hazards potentially posed by his offspring and also hoping it would make him a better, more responsible citizen. Or, at least a slightly calmer, less destructive one.
I can't say definitively that it worked. Well, we're pretty sure there aren't any more little Ferrises roaming Middle Georgia, but he's left a fair amount of damage in his wake. And so many stories to go with them.
He was a mutt, a mixture that most likely included some chow, black Lab, maybe a little pit bull, and who knows what else was tossed into the bowl. Kind of like Brunswick stew. It all added up to about 50 pounds of quirkiness, but beyond the quirks, he was a completely ordinary and average dog with nothing really stellar about him.
By that I mean, he wasn't a hunting or tracking dog and he would have flunked out of service dog training. I never once saw him fetch a thing and he ignored any Frisbee thrown his direction. His "tricks" were limited to shaking hands, sometimes, and to sitting, but only if a treat was soon forthcoming. The command to "stay" was completely beyond him; after all, if he moved and then sat again, wasn't another morsel supposed to magically appear? Maybe he would have been a good guard dog, but he never had the chance to show his stuff. Besides, he was terrified of guns, thunder, and fireworks, so I wouldn't have wanted to bet my life on him standing between our family and danger.
But he was ours, and we were his. Regina dubbed him the "best walker dog ever," which sounds a lot like a Participation Trophy, but she really meant it. If the doors of a truck opened to him, he was delighted to jump in and ride as long and far as you wanted to go. The same went for a Kubota Utility Vehicle on the farm; he rode along, mouth agape and tongue slopping drool, just happy to be with his family. The slightest jingle of his leash brought him running, ready to drag you through a neighborhood until you were worn out.
He was friendly, a companion, one who entered a room and stopped by to bid "hello" to everyone in the room. That meant you got to rub his head, fiddle with his ears, and maybe even scratch his back a little. Then he was off to the next and finally, he retired to his mat to simply take it all in. Whether the Braves or Bulldogs were playing, or a guy and girl were falling in love in a Hallmark movie, it was all fine with him. He was truly happy just to be in the room, to be surrounded by the people he called his family.
That was it. Fourteen years of being ours. Fourteen years of loving us unconditionally. Fourteen years of just being there.
What a lesson about grace I've learned from him. He didn't love us because we were special or otherwise exemplary. And we wouldn't have loved him any more if he'd brought home a blue ribbon from the Westminster Kennel Club or if he could herd sheep or snatch Frisbees from the air. Isn't that the Gospel in a nutshell? Christ came looking for us, not because we were worthy but simply because He loved. Right?
His battle with bone cancer came to a gentle end as our oldest son, Miles, a veterinarian, gave him the last great act of kindness and compassion and relieved him of his suffering. So, we dug in the soft, rich dirt of Pike County, just a stone's throw from where we first met him. And we bid our fine old friend a fond and mournful farewell.