Stitches for Christmas

I hadn’t planned on the Christmas traffic and so I was a bit late for work.  “I’m not even on the highway yet,” I phoned my receptionist, “So you might want to call my first appointment and advise them to come in 15 minutes late.”

“Just be glad you’re not early!” she exclaimed.  “We had an emergency run in, and the poor thing was torn wide open from getting caught under a fence, and bleeding all over the place.”

“Are they waiting?” I asked as I sped up well past my comfortable speed.  “No, I sent them to Dr. Elsewhere.  Besides they’d never been here before, and said the dog wasn’t even theirs!”

I’d seen the schedule and knew we were slammed; it was good that they went down the road.  I had 18 appointments scheduled for the abbreviated 3 hour day, and that would be plenty.  Besides, it was Christmas Eve and everyone would be anxious to get home after just a half day.  I was glad I wouldn’t have to feel guilty.

I’ve  come to really enjoy my hour and a half commute.  I listen to lots of audiobooks and, now that I’m enrolled in University postgraduate classes again, I listen to my professor’s lectures a few times as well.  But it does make for a long 13 hour day, and there’s not much of me left when I get home.  My coping mechanism involves an hour of silence, contemplation, prayer early every morning.  And I find myself struggling, pleading, praying for peace and joy from each hectic day.

Some days it’s hard to find much joy.  I’m sometimes immersed and submerged in grief of lost life and love.  And so I plead with my Creator for consolation.  I want to know that it’s not all in vain.  That we’re here for a reason.  That I’m here for a reason.  Give me your eyes to recognize opportunities to love and serve as you would have me.  And that I am living my life as He would want – that the world is better for my having been here.  I’ve been having a bit of a dry spell, and feel like I’m just checking the box some days.

I realize I’ll never cure cancer.  And I’ll never make enough money to create a Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to end a disease like rubella.  Or embrace the “humans discarded like garbage” as Mother Theresa did.  And so it would be easy to see my ordinary, everyday life as just that. But I strive to find Jesus with every encounter – every time I smile, touch, or open my mouth.  I pray for patience, and compassion, and the vision to realize who it is that is actually standing in front of me, and overlook their human faults.  I ask for wisdom to recognise those opportunities that I’m given where I can draw closer, but be indifferent to those which push me away.

Sometimes people aren’t very kind, or appreciative, or forgiving of my own faults – my forgetfulness, my schedule, my often sarcastic personality, my tardiness.

And so, I zipped into the driveway, with almost 20 cars already in it, knowing that the day would be another challenge.  My first two appointments were waiting, along with two unplanned emergencies; 6 pets had been dropped off for me to examine “in my spare time,” and over 40 charts were on my desk for me to evaluate lab results and to call to discuss treatment options.

After years of this script, my employees know I have a routine, and to only jump on me if someone is bleeding.  Since they didn’t, I made a dash for the baño and returned the three mugs of coffee I’d inhaled almost two hours ago.  I grabbed my stethoscope, and slid into the first exam room.

Soon I had dispersed, delegated, prescribed, and advised everyone waiting to see me, and was shocked to see no charts in front of me.  I looked at the clock and was confused that I had a little down time in the middle of a busy, busy morning.

As I turned to tackle my stack of charts, one of my receptionists spun me around and said, “Dr. K., the person that came in so early this morning, the one I referred to Dr. Elsewhere is back, and begging for you to look at the dog.  I know what you’re going to say, so I’m not sure why I’m even asking, but she wants your opinion. Remember, it’s not even her dog, and she has now told me three times that she doesn’t have any money.”  The other doctor had told her just to hose the dog’s wound off every day and it would probably heal fine.

I shook my head and smiled, “Tell them to bring the dog in, and I’ll have a look.”

“No,” she said, “They’re too embarrassed to come in with no money.  Can you go out to their car and just have a look to see if you agree with the other doctor.”

“Sure.”

The gash was deep, and blood was everywhere.  There was little chance this would heal on it’s own.  Not without antibiotics, and she really needed stitches.  I looked around and “for some reason” there were still no cars in the parking lot.  The little dog looked up at me and wagged her tail.  I looked at the wrinkled, worried forehead of the couple who had cared enough to bring in a dog that didn’t even belong to them.

Fence Gash

“Field stitches” are something that I learned from my boyhood mentor as I “helped” around the neighborhood vet clinic, a lifetime ago, working on cattle and horses, and most certainly aren’t taught in medical school.  They are fast, and require no general anesthesia.  I looked at the huge gash in the little dog, and realized that it most certainly wouldn’t be the best medical care, but one hell of a lot better than hosing it off every day.  Besides, I could shave and disinfect the wound, inject some lidocaine, place a drain, and “field stitch” the dog in about 20 minutes.  (To do it properly, with acceptable sterile technique would require anesthesia and over two hours of surgical time).

OK, so it actually took 30 minutes, and by then about 4 or 5 people were waiting. But, as I placed the final stitch in her neighbor’s dog who hadn’t even flinched, and gave her a shot of antibiotics, I knew it had been the right thing to do.

Her husband had looked at the floor most of the time we were in the exam room together, and finally, looking up, spoke with a cracking voice.

“I’m not sure why ya done this fer us, and I told you I didn’ haf any thing ta pay ya with. Would it be OK if we came back and paid you a little bit each week, when I get m’ check?”  He seemed to fear my response and was clearly embarrassed.

I was a bit moved by his offer.  I had known they couldn’t pay when I invited them in.

“No,” I said, “I only ask one thing.  Don’t go around and tell everyone that we work for free.  ‘Cause if I did this very often, (pointing to my nurse) she’d have to work for free, and then her family wouldn’t get to buy food.”

“What?” they were both clearly a mess now.  “You done all this fer nuthin?”

“Nope. We did it because we were supposed to.  Thanks for coming in today, and … Merry Christmas.”

I gave them each a hug, and high fived my nurse as I left the room.

She smiled bigger than I did.  She knew we hadn’t done it for them.  It was for me.  I’m selfish that way.

Clearly, a businessman can’t give things away on a regular basis, or he wouldn’t be able to pay his staff, and give raises, and pay for health care, or the mortgage.  But sometimes you can.  And it feels really good.

None of this is about “telling people about our good works so that others will know how good we are.”  It’s simply opening our eyes so we can see.

It’s not about doing good, or “giving back,” because others have been good to us.  No, that’s simply the “exchange” of Christmas gifts.  Tit for tat.  And as such, although trades are extrinsically good, they don’t really add good to the world.  The balance shifts when we do good where there is no possible way for the other to repay.

At the end of the day, isn’t that what Christmas is really about anyway?

For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son …

JN 3:16

The original gift of Christmas was one given with full knowledge that it could never be repaid, and clearly there has never been that expectation.  We don’t do good because we owe God anything.  Or because we’re afraid of Hell.  We do good because God is good, and in our design we are programed to enjoy doing so.  There are no mistakes in our design.  He did this for a reason.  We are here for a reason.

Centuries ago, Blaise Pascal (consider also Pascal’s Wager) formulated a concept later described as a “God shaped hole” in our hearts.  We seek and try repeatedly to fill this longing with things of this world, trying to satisfy the craving, and fill the void ourselves. Sixteen centuries years ago Pascal observed power-lust and self-centeredness, with the resultant narcissism and addictions.

This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself.”
– Blaise Pascal, Pensées VII(425)

Only by recognising what “fits” in this hole do we “satisfy that longing.” Only through love and service for others are we truly happy.  What we did on Christmas eve was really no big deal.  Everyone can, and must reach out those around them.  Maybe you can’t stitch up a stray dog.  But you can help someone fix a flat tire, or unload their groceries, or shovel their snow, or give a blanket to someone who is wandering and cold.  Or just stop and, with a conversation or a smile, show a stranger that they matter.

ed. note:  I considered for a week before I wrote this. Last year a similar post about Betty and her dog Baby (Rude) resulted in a considerable number of folks being put off by what they saw as “attention seeking, and patting myself on the back for doing something we should all do anyway.” But that was the entire point of She Wasn’t being Rude, if the reader had actually read it and made it down to the end of the post.  Of course we should do good, and what I (and every other veterinarian I know) am able to do sometimes, is a blessing – to me.

After tragedy enters someone’s life, they see the world through a much different lens.  Everything takes on a new color, with depth and detail that was never before noticed.  When the bleeding stops, everything has purpose;  life becomes deeper and meaningful, and appreciated.

My vision is with other eyes now.  Mainly those of my father and my son.

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Thankful 2015

It’s not the destination, it’s the journey.

I’m out of town with family today getting the turkey ready, but I can get lab-results, and sometimes this forces me to make very painful phone calls.

The 30ish woman and her beautiful 12 year old daughter had come into my veterinary hospital yesterday with a kitten that was very sick.  She was so neurologically affected that she couldn’t stand, and had to be swaddled up like a newborn, or she’d arch backward and thrash around, completely out of control.

Kids seem to have a special bond with pets that only parents can understand.  Although I spoke in my best disguised code to her mommy, Madeline courageously held back hysterical tears, clearly having been prepared for the news that I might deliver.

When a pediatric patient presents with such profound symptoms, the diagnosis is often a congenital or genetic condition.  Neither can actually be “cured,” but sometimes successfully managed.  In veterinary medicine, quality of life is of paramount importance, and so, often these situations sometimes do not end well.

I stepped away from the sweet potatoes and Brussels sprout prep party to make the phone call neither if us wanted to make or receive.  The bile acids test had come back normal, so there was not a hepatic shunt, the often treatable liver anomaly we had both hoped and prayed for.

Next on the list of differential diagnoses were a couple of congenital problems, neither of which had a very good prognosis. My medically correct advice was a neurologist referral, but I knew the likelihood of a good outcome was miniscule.  Big words with no treatment like cerebellar hypoplasia and spongiform encephalopathy now ascend to the top of the list. And so when she asked what I would do if it was my own kitten, my hand was forced with the grim reality.  We are treating for one other parasitic possibility, but the odds are even more slim.

She explained, matter of factly, how this was the first cat that they’d ever had that seemed to love them back.  She exuded love and appreciated  their affection.  This stray kitten just seemed to wander into their house one day, and immediately bonded with her daughter Madeline.  Every other cat they’d ever had received their love, but only “Mo” really gave it back.

The crosses we bear are so heavy.

My heart hurts for her, and especially her daughter.  I told her how sorry I am.  “But,” I explained:

As a father, and as a Christian, I’d like to say a couple of things to you, and I apologize if you wouldn’t expect this from your doctor.

Our blessings come in many forms.  We look at such a short life with anguish and disappointment.  What a waste.  This all seems so cruel.

But, I reminded her.  This was a stray kitten that had never known human love and compassion until she found you.  In you, she found three months of love that she would otherwise never have known.  You gave “Mo” so much.  That is a not a waste.

You told me that Madeline had never felt such a returned love from a pet.  “Mo” gave her so much.  The obvious is the physical, the temporal return of affection.  Mo gave Madeline the opportunity to welcome the unloved and unwanted.  But think also of the ‘not so pretty’ pieces of this puzzle.  Perhaps the bigger lesson includes comforting the suffering, the dying, someone who could not really give back.  And so she learned empathy, sympathy, and compassion; how to love the suffering, the unappreciative, the unloveable.

So, although you have had Mo for such a short time, she gave so more than she received.  These are blessings.

Sometimes, it surprises me when I am emotionally moved by a client or an experience.  This one shouldn’t have been a surprise.

I hung up the phone, sat on the couch and put my face in my hands.

I know pain.  I know the cross.  I know the questions of the cross.

I am thankful today for so many things.  Most of all, I am thankful for  a God who is all good, and understands my frustrations and prayers.

Most people that have continued to read this post, understand me, or at least what I’m talking about.  Our God is good.  All the time.

And for this, I am thankful, on this “Thanksgiving.”  I am thankful that, although we carry different loads, and that our God is merciful.  I am better for my own load, and although I would not wish it on anyone, it is mine to bear.

As is everyone else’s load and cross.  The blessing is not in our destination, the blessing is in the journey itself.  Only through times of emptiness and desolation do we grow.

Today I am thankful for  my life and my cross.  We all carry our own buckets with our own loads.  This makes us human.  Knowing that we do not walk alone is such consolation.  We must be able to lay them at the cross.

 

I’m also thankful for unconditional love, and a career where I hope I make a difference.

Happy Thanksgiving, 2015

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The Evil Eye

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I don’t know if Helene Friedman is alive anymore, but I do have fond memories.  About half of what she said was incomprehensibly Yiddish, but I found her antics generally entertaining.  She was quite old and feeble, and an infamous “cat-lady,” who always seemed to just “appear out of thin air” holding two cat carriers.  The few dollar bills she could produce were damp from inside her brassiere, and her glasses were literally taped together.  One thing that sticks with me, after 25 years, is her saying something about “Kinna Hurra,” which she said was so I would not get the evil eye.  It was all a bit of nonsense to me, reminiscent of the “stink eye” mentioned in the movie Juno, or that unpleasant leer Michelle Obama whips out sometimes.  But apparently that’s not at all what she was referring to.

My Rabbi client was in the other day and I mentioned this, and he smiled amusingly at me like my Spanish clients do when I make an attempt at saying something coherent in their language.

“You must mean, ‘Kein Ayin Hora,’ which is the Yiddish version of the Hebrew, ‘Bli Ayin Hara.'”

“Yes, of course that’s surely what I meant,” I smiled back, equally entertained at myself.

“What the heck does it mean?”

The good Rabbi gave me two explanations.

  1. The more traditional describes the “curse” placed on someone who succeeds or attains goals or wealth.  A less fortunate person would look with great jealousy (ayin hara) at his brother and pray to Almighty Gd, complaining of the inequity.  The “evil eye” has effectively placed a “hex.”  The would result in someone acting or showing less evidence of success to avoid such a curse.  Likewise, if complimented, he might say “Kinna Hurra,” or actually spit afterwards, to avoid the curse (apparently evil spirits don’t like spit).  And so when one observes something good happening, he then quickly follows up with this expression, so as not to “jinx” the apparent good outcome.  (I laughed out loud because I remembered Helene actually spitting after uttering her kinnahurra, and how taken back I was that she would do so in my exam room!)
  2. The explanation he said he liked better was deeper, and probably more meaningful to me, as a Christian.  “One of your ‘Catholic Books’ is called Tobit  (I nodded, because  I had recently read these 7 books tossed during the reformation, and remembered it pretty well).  Well Tobit, as well as Proverbs, refers to the concept of the ‘eye’ as a window, letting in light.”

But the ancients also thought of the eye another way, as lights shining interior light of the body.  Psalm 38 talks about ‘eyes as having lost their luster.’  Of course you are thinking in medical terms, Dr. Bill, but this isn’t scientific, or medical.  It’s the observation that someone’s eyes show their inner character.

I shared that Matthew and Luke both talk about the eyes showing light or darkness within.  The Rabbi smiled approvingly, and continued,

So, Matthew and Luke make more sense now – if the eye is generous, it is bright and the body is filled with interior light or goodness. But if the eye is set on cursing others, the body is full of darkness.

And so, my friend, the little old woman in your memory was not only wishing you well, but paying you the highest compliment.  She felt you were generous and had treated her kindly.

I thought of Helene recently, which is probably why this story was in my mind when the Rabbi came in.  I was on a bus at the North American Veterinary Conference, shuttling between the two meeting venues when I looked over to the other side of the road to see an elderly woman running with a hand-written cardboard sign.  In her other hand she held a pet carrier that she was swinging wildly.  This strange sight caught the attention of the bus-load full of veterinarians, until the cage door sprung open and her few clothes and possessions fell to the ground.  Many people in nearby cars seemed amused, smiling as they looked away, but my stomach fell to the floor, as I continued to watch.  She dropped the broken cage and started wiping her face, over and over again, as her tears continued to stream down her cheeks.  As she placed her glasses back on her face, I saw the tape holding them together.

As the light changed to green, my bus rolled away, and I smiled to see brake-lights of someone stopping to help her.

And so, the eyes are the window to the inner character, and perhaps the soul itself.

Do we look away with Ayin Hara, an evil eye of inner darkness, or do we look compassionately with Ken Ayin Hara, a generous eye shining with an inner light?

I’ll continue to fail miserably, I’m sure.  However, I am beginning to recognize Him along my own journey to Emmaus.  I’m reminded of a prayer shared with me by a Jesuit at Whitehouse Retreat in St. Louis:

Lord, keep me ever mindful, that we are always in your presence.

 

Image result for homeless woman with cat  Beautiful Eye

 

Christmas 2014, A Parable for Today

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A while back, I walked the Camino de Santiago as part of my grief healing process after losing my son.  I had been informed, and found it true, that the spirituality, the soul saving energy of the Holy Spirit was “so thick there that you could cut it with a knife.”  The love and fraternity penetrated every perigrino, the pilgrims there for so many reasons, with such affect and effect that even the social participants would be changed forever.  Especially during the evenings at the albergues, the Spanish hostels for pilgrims, where sharing, toasting and camaraderie were evident. It was truly one of the highlights of my life – so much so that I would return back to operate my own albergue along “the way.”

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And so, I saw myself working with such effort that I was exhausted each day.  We decided to operate our hostel for no set fee, the pilgrim would pay what they could afford, a tariff called “donitivo,” or simply, donation of what one feels is worthy.  At the beginning, it was like my first marathon – exhilarating at each day’s finish line, but so worth it that even my wife, who I pulled into this journey with me, felt this service fulfilling.  But this calling began to take its toll.  We certainly collected enough to pay our bills, as many donated much, much more than the 12 euro typical of most albergues with set fees.  But day after day, week after week, year after year we were worn down.

Much like the decades of veterinary medicine I practiced, I loved the calling, the connections I made, the love and brotherhood I shared.  I knew what I was doing was worthwhile, and made a difference in so many lives, but, still, after all the time, we were just weary.  Some days turned into most days that I wondered if people cared how much effort was involved in what I did for them.  And like the few that didn’t seem to appreciate my veterinary service, the traveler or two that didn’t express appreciation or even pay anything at all for the meal and bed that we provided began to hurt my feelings.

I grew indignant, such that I looked forward to the slow season, when fewer and fewer people would impose upon me.  I was just plain tired.  And so when November, and then December rolled around, I was so relieved.  Imagine my frustration when, at the end of December, more tour groups came through and kept me at capacity for day after day, and now weeks of exhaustion.  Every night, Sharon and I melted into our bed, only to be startled a few hours later to start it all over again.  Preparing their food, and changing the linens on the beds that the next nights refugees would so appreciate.

And so that night, ever so memorable, began just like every other.  It was cold, we were full, and the words came so easily – “sorry but we’re full – continue on to the next town,” where lodging might be available.  But this was different.  These travelers were so presumptuous, even inconsiderate.  It was well after ten, and they thought there were vacancies?  We had been full, and turning people away since 2 o’clock!  But what was most inconsiderate was not the hour, but the condition of these travelers.  He was old and clearly out of shape, and she was very pregnant.  What the heck were they thinking, doing the Camino at all, in their conditions, much less when it was so cold.  Their previous town had been well over 10 kilometers prior, how could he possibly expect her to make it here, and now … nothing for another 18 kilometers.  They could never continue on.

I reminisced back to that night, forever ago, when I trudged ahead on my own first Camino, so cold and tired, only to find the fee for lodging I so desperately needed to be “cash only,” and more than I had remaining in my pocket.  The tears were streaming down my cheeks as I was turned away, on to the next town, in the freezing driving rain.

This was precisely why I had no set fee – someone might need my help and not have whatever I wanted to charge.  A donation of the travelers’ choosing seemed so appropriate.  And this was, in fact, the tradition, a thousand years ago, when so many saints and sinners, including my favorite St Francis, had walked this Camino de Santiago.

It’s hard to put into words my appreciation, that first Camino, when just around the corner from where I had been turned away in that freezing rain, was a different albergue, one that wasn’t in the guidebook, that allowed me to stay for what I could afford.

Sharon startled me from those memories, when she whispered into my ear what I should have thought of myself as the weary couple turned and walked away in disappointment.  “We’ll make room somewhere, they can even stay in our room,  they’ll never make it to the next town.  Besides, they’re probably also full at this hour.”

“Wait!” I shouted as they disappeared in the dark, “If you want to, you can sleep in with the pups.”

To help pay the bills, we raised boxer dogs and had a litter almost ready to wean in what used to be the garage.  It was foul smelling of canine waste, and probably loud with whining and barking, but at least they would have a cover for the night.

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I was surprised that my wife wasn’t happy with me.  Apparently she was serious about giving up our own bed.  She was nuts, there was no way I was going to go without, because of someone else’s lack of planning. I was tired, and had worked hard.

My heart was full of chaos, I was exhausted, and I needed rest for tomorrow.  But there would never be another tomorrow.  My life would be demanded of me tonight.  And in my business, I had missed Him in our midst.  I’d prepared my entire life for this very night, and yet my own lamp was without oil.

I failed to recognize Joseph as my brother.

But I had given them shelter.  Wasn’t that good enough?  Was it?

I’d never killed anyone or robbed, or cheated, or told any big lies.  Wasn’t that good enough?

I had allowed the mother of my Lord to sleep with my dogs.  How could I possibly know she would have the child that night?  I hadn’t turned them away, had I?

Would you have?

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A Soldier’s Angel – Part 2

(If you missed Part 1, here’s the link: Part 1)

Twenty eight year old William Patrick Cosgrove had been one of six handpicked for sniper training in the 4th brigade combat team, then qualified into the elite hundred for the entire 82nd Airborne Division. He had been twice decorated for heroism before that fateful September day in 2012. He was leading the team as they patrolled an area known to be heavily rigged with IEDs. With them was a beagle that never left his side.

“She ran into camp from over the hill, and made a bee-line directly to Will, and jumped up and down, barking and whining, as if she’d been looking for him and was so happy to find him. It was the damnedest thing,” recalled a friend of Cosgrove. “Then she’d never leave his side, and he named her ‘Angel’ – we assumed because he thought she was his guardian angel. In fact, Will placed the angel medallion from his necklace on her collar.  Only later did we learn the real reason, or at least the ‘rest’ of the story.”

Angel had clearly been trained in explosives detection. She’d warned them countless times of traps, and would literally go berserk at the hint of acetone peroxide. She was drawn to him and they bonded immediately, likely saving him and many team-members, dozens of times.

But that day there was no acetone peroxide , and no one suspected the cart full of sticks had so much dynamite underneath.  But they recognized the words shouted as the teenager pulling the cart waved to the approaching soldiers.

*****

Specialist Cosgrove’s wife Katie had just returned from T-ball practice with her sons Billy and Brian, and she scrambled to get the big dinner fixed before people started arriving. Her daughter Lindsey turned 6 today and the in-laws would join them after they picked her up from gymnastics. It had been such a hectic week.

Katie had grown so close to Will’s parents who had been such a big help, with him off on his second tour. They ran errands, helped cook, watched the kids, and had even taken their dog to the vet last year for a check-up and shots.

That had been such a horrible day for everyone.  Since William Sr. had also been military, his base privileges included vet services, so he had taken Angel over to Ft. Bragg.  Katie was so well trained, she was almost never on leash.  After the exam, William Sr. opened the door, and as he fumbled with his cane, she bolted out as if she had seen a ghost.  The dog took off running and never even looked back.  They all assumed she had seen a uniform in the distance and ran off towards who she thought was Will.

Katie knew William would be devastated to find his dog gone, but after 6 months, they’d just about given up hope.  Angel looked like every other pitbull and although nobody said it, everyone knew she’d been euthanized in some shelter between Goldston and Ft. Bragg.  As bad as they all felt, William Sr. was simply devastated.

God, how she missed that dog – Katie used to talk to her as if she was Will. Something about her was Will, the way she looked up at her, the way she was always there when Katie or one of the kids needed a hug, she just seemed to sense their emotions.

As Katie looked down at the empty corner where she always lay, she smiled and said wistfully, “You’re the worst dog ever!” But then she felt guilty, even though he used to always say that. Because she wasn’t, she was the best dog ever. Maternal misgivings about having a pit-bull around the kids were quickly forgotten, and everyone in the family considered her their best friend. William was going to be be so upset. As she turned the frying chicken, Katie drifted off to the day they adopted her.

Their oldest child had just turned 9 when William decided a dog would fit into their family. He had always had dogs as a child and so wanted the kids to grow up with them. Katie hated the thought – jumping up and scratching everyone’s legs, shedding on the floor, and demanding to be walked, and so she resisted as long as she could. The family had planned a wonderful weekend at the beach, and drove the two hours from Goldston to the Outer Banks the Friday before his first tour to Afghanistan. William had the whole thing planned, they were staying at a condo his high school friend offered, and he knew exactly where the Humane Society was, just outside Raleigh. She rolled her eyes as he pulled into the parking lot, with really no objection. She had been expecting it for such a long time.

But Katie had been expecting a Beagle puppy, not an adult Pit Bull. As the gate to the kennel run opened, the dog actually jumped into Lindsey’s tiny lap, whining and crying as if they were long-lost friends. The boys agreed, the decision had been made. No-one  was surprised when William announced her name, ‘Angel.’ ”  He pulled out his necklace and kissed the two medallions, a crucifix and an angel.  I’ll be gone a while, its just perfect; She’ll be your ‘guardian,’ your protector.”

*****

The knock at the door startled her. Katie assumed it was the in-laws and Lindsey. Suddenly she realized that she hadn’t wrapped Lindsey’s present.

“Come on in!” she shouted from the kitchen, stashing the unwrapped gift under the counter, but not wanting to leave the frying pan on the stove. At the second knock, she dashed towards the door, but froze at the sight through the living room window. Katie fell to her knees at the sight of the two dress uniforms standing on her front porch.

“No! No!” she screamed on the floor of the foyer.

As the chaplain heard this, he considered opening the door, and then saw Groves parents pull into the driveway. Tears trekked down the face of William Senior realizing immediately the news these men must bear. The woman in the passenger seat wept uncontrollably as the confused child in the back seat kept asking her what was wrong.

*****

I suppose we’ll never know how or why Angel made the 700 mile, 2 year journey from Ft. Bragg.  Or the pain surrounding her filed off canine teeth.  Or how or why His divine Providence directs so much of our lives.  But I’m quite certain that He does.  The bittersweet joy at their reunion would be surreal.  But these “gifts left behind” give us great comfort.  When I say, “Thank God” for something, I really mean it.

And some things we do know.  But we all know why William Patrick Cosgrove Sr. was in his car and drove all night to Orlando.  When my clients met us here early that morning with Angel, we unraveled the whole story together.  When Will’s father shared the part about the medallion, two faces drained of color as the boy reached from his pocket.  “This was around her neck when we picked her up off the street,” he said as he opened his hand.

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ed. note:  The names in this story have been changed to protect their privacy.  Also, when Angel and William Sr. arrived back in NC, although Katie was stunned by the co-incidences and symbolism, she said the medallion Angel wears (still) is not the same one her husband wore around his neck.

Perhaps they looked different, but I’m not convinced.

Much Love.

A Soldier’s Angel – Part 1

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The poor dog should have weighed about 55 or 60 pounds, but was just shy of 40 and looked pitifully up at me with a hesitant tail-tap against the exam table. I could see her ribs, her backbone, and the large mass on her breast. The only thing missing was Sara MacLaughlin singing in the background.

My client and her son had been driving through a “rough” part of Orlando, just off OBT where the “social workers” regularly walk in the evenings. They had just cleaned an office-building and were on the way home when they saw her dodging the early morning traffic.

“Be careful!” she shouted to her son as he darted out the car door to see if she wanted a ride, or if she would run away, or even try to bite when he approached. Apparently he didn’t even need to catch her – when she saw his door open, she swaggered over to him and just paused, too weak to even jump into the car. She sat in his lap as they drove off, incessantly whining and licking his face.

I typically don’t charge for these office calls, I do a cursory exam and relieve suffering, whatever I can do that doesn’t cost me too much. So the exam and check for worms was pro bono – if they could be such Good Samaritans, it was the least I could do. They paid for the heartworm test (negative result was shocking), and the deworming, when I determined she was full of roundworms and hookworms (not shocking).

The son was explaining to his mom that based on the condition and number of scars on this poor dog, she had undoubtedly  been used as a “baiting” dog.  In the lovely parts of our culture where dogfights are popular, dogs such as this are used as “bait” dogs.  She was very sweet, and as such, certainly wouldn’t be a fighter.  Dogs like this would be thrown into the practice ring to be destroyed by the others, developing their bloodlust.  I was horrified when I parted her gums to discover that, indeed, her canine teeth had been filed off flat, to render her unable to defend herself or injure one of the valued champion fighters.  He was probably right – she had indeed been a bait dog, and somehow escaped to the streets.

We always run the microchip scanner on new adult and found pets, and (this is a surprise) – She HAS a microchip!

You can imagine my mixed emotions when the the reader displayed an identification number.  This pet was brought in by someone willing to step up and take care of this poor, abused, suffering creature, but historically, I’ve always done my best to contact the registered owner.

But sometimes there is no registered owner, or current address.  When someone has me chip their pet, I am EMPHATIC that they immediately call the chip registry and do this.  A chip is just a number, and is completely worthless if it doesn’t point back to the owner.

And such was the case.  We called the chip registry who could only inform us that this numbers was one of a lot provided to the Veterinary Clinic at Ft. Bragg, in North Carolina.  This dog had belonged to one of our soldiers!

As our nation’s birthday celebration neared, this story was beginning to take on an air that nobody could have imagined.  My finger trembled a bit as I called the army base clinic number I had found on the internet.  The rollercoaster paused as the staff-sergeant explained that this soldier had only come in once, in 2010, and they didn’t even know if he was active duty anymore.  They only showed vaccinations, a microchip ID, and that her name was, “Angel.”

There were so many possibilities.  Had the dog been lost or stolen, and used in fighting, while he was stationed somewhere else?  Is he in Afghanistan or Iraq?  Had he been injured or killed?

Or was she lost and roaming the streets at all?  Could she have just been on the street next to the house she thinks is home?  All soldiers aren’t heroes.  Did he even lose this dog?  Worse yet, is he involved in dog fighting?  How could we even know?  Michael Vick seemed respectable enough before that evidence came out.

I do tend to give people the benefit of the doubt.  Besides, her name was “Angel,” and it would make a beautiful reunion if he had lost her.  As horrified and nauseous as I was at the alternative possibility, I pursued some connections.  I had filled in for a year as a civilian Air Force Veterinarian at Patrick AFB and knew a few people, so I called to see if someone there could locate him and reach out.

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Angel and her foster family left me that day so anxious and curious, I was a bit disappointed that we wouldn’t be working on the 4th, and so had to wait.

On the fifth of July, my friends on the base called back with the news.  I could never have anticipated what I would discover over the next few weeks.

Please continue with PART TWO

 

A Good Day, Profiles in Virtue #1

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I never thought I’d see Dean again, or at least for quite a while.  I’d diagnosed osteosarcoma bone cancer in his beloved bloodhound’s leg about a month ago, and after we said goodbye to her, he floated off in a sea of tears.  I’m always touched by a man who feels comfortable sharing emotion while dealing with life’s difficult decisions.  Dean had carried some of his own medical issues, and had lost an eye on that journey.  So I was so very happy to see his face when I entered the exam room last Tuesday, embracing a new dog.  He shared his story.

“Doc, you know I was pretty tore up about ol’ Dolly.  I swore I could never get another dog again.  It just hurts so  much when you have to say goodbye.”

I nodded because I know that feeling well.  Clearly I didn’t need to share my wisdom about love and loss.

“Dolly had been such a good friend to me, through such tough times, the surgery and everything.  She just seemed to know when I needed someone to hug.”

“The good years we shared, and the unconditional love she showed me, that was so much bigger than my pain when I had to put her down.”

“I woke up one morning with a big ol’ smile on my face, and I went down to the shelter.  I told them I wanted to adopt an old dog, one that was sweet, but would probably never get adopted, because they weren’t cute.”

“When she saw me, she ran over to the front of the cage, jumped up and down, turned around and around, and whined and barked, like the army guy returning home from deployment, and his dog sees him and does all this; it was like it was Dolly, so glad to see me again.”

“The family who walked into the shelter when I did, saw all the commotion,  and changed their mind.  They didn’t want a puppy anymore.  They asked to see an older dog too”

My “brother” Dean had adopted this dog on what was to be her last day.  She was to be euthanized at 5:00.  This dog appeared to be “nothing special.”  She was 8 years old, Dolly’s age, and just a plain, regular, old dog.  She was not a cute puppy.  This dog would never have been adopted.

Indeed, she had been saved.  Likely a mutual arrangement.

I could see my technician looking at me, knowing how I loved stories like this.  I realized that I hadn’t said anything in minutes, and was smiling from ear to ear.  I reached out my hand.  “Dean, you’re my hero today.  Thanks for ending my day like this.  Thanks for being you.”  I left the room doing the Snoopy “happy dance.”

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People don’t suck.  I am truly humbled by people on days like these.  People are awesome, and this is just another example of why we were put here.

So what makes a good day anyway?  The bank teller or bagger at the grocery story says, “Have a good day.”

What, exactly, does that mean?

I’ve always told my children that a day is completely wasted if we haven’t learned something, positively influenced someone, or been positively influenced by someone.  These things truly change the world.

Think of this.  Such a simple action.  Such an act of love.  We have no idea how many people we touch every day.  Clearly, this dog’s life was impacted, but what about us?  What about the family next to Dean who decided to get a different, likely un-adoptable, older dog.  What about the shelter girl, who cried as she wrote up the paperwork?  How did she know this dog likes to chase tennis balls? IMG_8563[1]

What about my employees, and the ten other clients in my waiting room.  What about those reading this blog post?  When we think no one else is looking, the entire world probably is.

What about the man looking at Dean in the mirror at the end of the day?  What about someone else, looking down and smiling.  Our actions always matter.

Yes, this was a good day.

Much Love.

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