This is a photo of Libby.
Not the girl–that’s Ashley.
Libby is the dog. Liberty Belle.
She came to live with us at Thanksgiving, on Chase’s 9th birthday. Today, Chase–now 24, and Ashley–now his wife, took Libby to the vet to set her free. It’s a mission of mercy no one who has ever loved an animal wants to carry out. And, love demands that we do it anyway.
Libby was the runt of her litter. We bought her from a pet store, not fully realizing then, that pet stores are not the recommended place to acquire a new pet.
The first nights after we brought her home, I slept on the couch with this tiny pup on my chest, under my robe, because I couldn’t stand to hear her cry.
By age two, the vet said Libby had hip displaysia, a common ailment in Rottweiler’s. I cried that day thinking we’d have to put her down before her third birthday, never dreaming she would live another 13 years.
Libby was not what I would call an easy dog. She was often anxious. She would sometimes sit down when being walked, and refuse to get up. And she had a special gift for greeting me with a head butt that was so routine that it caused me anxiety, every time, even before it happened.
She wasn’t fond of many women.
But she did tolerate me. And she did like Ashley. Maybe it was because Chase liked Ashley–that much was clear from the beginning. Or maybe it was because Ashley wouldn’t give up on Libby, insisting that Chase bring her on various ventures; bedecking her neck with bow-collars for every occasion; and always having treats on hand.
Today, when Chase and Ashley were at the vet, three hours away, I was in a study group at church. My eyes seemed to know when they were saying their goodbyes, because I could not stop the tears from suddenly filling them.
And even though she couldn’t see my face, Riley seemed to know this.
Riley is a dog that comes to our study group on Wednesdays. Riley has stayed at our house and we have bonded over shared office space at the church. And today, in that study, as I was quietly wiping the tears from my eyes, I realized, that Riley had got up from her space on the floor at the other side of the table, and quietly moved under the table to rest her head on my lap.
It seems to me that our animals model this thing called “the ministry of presence” better than humans. Wherever you are — they show up. They don’t worry about whether or not you WANT them in the room. They don’t care if you want them to invade your space or not. They surely never ask if it’s too late or too early. They just show up, assuming you want to share your couch or chair or tiny piece of rug, with them.
And so often, when we are hurting, they move in gently, to lay their head on our lap, or place their paws on our leg. Like the stuffed animals that comforted us before we could crawl, these living animals offer all they have–their soft selves. And we remember we are not alone.
Tonight at Evening Prayer, we read Psalm 121. And as those who gathered recited these words we know so well, I couldn’t help but think of Libby–not just because she left this world today. But because she did what God promises in this Psalm… she met me, and the boys-to-men that I love most, and eventually, Ashley, at the door, as if guarding our going out and coming in. Whether we wanted her to or not. She was as faithful as the promises of God in meeting any and all of us, at the door.
I hope that tonight, in a puppy paradise, Libby is running free. If there are seasons there, I hope it’s winter, because she always loved the snow. I hope she is stretching forth from hips that no longer hurt; happy as the pup who slept on my belly and stayed in the life of my youngest son, all the way home.
1I lift up my eyes to the mountains:
from where will my help come?
2My help is from the LORD,
maker of heaven and earth.
3He does not let your foot stumble.
Your guard does not slumber.
4Look, He does not slumber nor does He sleep,
5The LORD is your guard,
the LORD is your shade at your right hand.
6By day the sun does not strike you,
nor the moon by night.
7The LORD guards you from all harm,
He guards your life.
8The LORD guards your going and your coming,
now and forevermore.