Man and beast you save, O Lord
By Pastor Tom Anderson
He was the best dog. After 5 days of not eating or drinking, I knew the time had come. Tyler was 15 years old and clearly played out. For most of his life he was a package of 80 lbs of fun but he’d dwindled to just 67. I left the vet with only his collar in my hand. I drove straight to the trailhead in Highland Rec where we had spent many a fine afternoon.
It was a beautiful blue October day. The woods were on fire with yellow maple. I blubbered my way down the path, scuffing through the leaves. The first step of grieving is to have a really good cry.
Two miles into the oak and hickory I climbed a hill and sat on a log. Silence. Sunlight. Squirrels chattering. I had found the spot. With a stick I dug a shallow hole and buried his collar. He loved the trails we wandered together. It’s here I can return to remember him.
It was always his habit to fall behind. He’d see a squirrel or catch a scent he needed to investigate. Then he’d come running to catch up to me. Sometimes he’d bring a prize–a bone, a skull, a walleye (previously filleted months past by an unknown fisherman) and once he managed to drag an entire haunch from a road-kill deer.
Once on a backpacking trip, we covered 17 miles in the steamy August weather. He was exhausted. I was a mess. I rigged a tarp and rolled out my sleeping bag and he promptly flopped onto it panting and drooling. Disgusted, I left to fish on the nearby waterfront. Once he saw the fly rod, he was up and in the water. I managed to bring in a rock bass before he swam laps through the fishing hole chasing the fly. If there was one thing he might have loved more than food, it was swimming.
A gentler dog I have never met. He loved children and was often surrounded by dozens of adoring preschoolers. He loved it–even when they stuck their little hands up to the elbow in his mouth. I can’t remember ever seeing him snarl at anything over the years we had him. You would not have been able to get him to bite you if you starved him and dressed yourself up like a pork chop.
One fateful winter night he and I were attacked by a pair of pit bulls in the neighborhood. I saw them coming from two blocks away. I had no stick and the street was too slick with polished snow to run.. When they lit into Tyler, I went down with them and put one in a headlock. I squeezed for all I was worth while punching as hard as I could with my free hand. It worked. They backed off and we retreated. Tyler lost only a bit of his ear that traumatic night.
In his senior years, Tyler calmed down enough to sit still in the canoe. This opened up a whole new pastime for him as boat ballast and fishing partner. At first he had to bark at every goose and swan. He insisted on sniffing every fish I brought in. But more recently he found the bottom of the canoe to be eminently congenial for sleeping in the sun. Passing boaters would marvel at him and say, “I wish my dog would do that.”
I still look for him in the morning at the bottom of the stairs where he’d wait for me or sleeping on the tiles in the parsonage where he spent many a hot summer day. His path through this world has ended. I walk on. I have many more miles to go. I carry him now in my memory. Because I’m following Jesus, Tyler will always have someone to remember him. God saves us–man and beast. (Psalm 36:6)