I’m coming up on the second anniversary of having lost a dear and special friend. Not just any friend, mind you.
A four legged friend.
To say that Shadow was an unusual dog would be like calling the Eiffel tower a mere toy. Entering my family’s life in June of 1998, Shadow was a mixture of Border collie, German shepherd and Sheltie. As the runt of the litter, we used to joke that he chose us, rather than us choosing him. When my son entered the garage where the litter of puppies was kept, a small lump of black and white waddled over and parked himself on top of his small, six year-old shoe. How can you say, “no” to that? Our choice was instantly decided.
The Games Dogs Play
Shadow would grow into a midsized dog, never weighing more than 40 lbs, and his friends and followers (unless you happened to be a squirrel) were to be found everywhere. By the age of ten, Shadow knew fifty-six different vocal commands. Sure, he knew the basics, but he also liked games such as hide-and-seek, where he could locate any family member (by name, even). When it came time to “hunt” for his family, Shadow would not give up. He would methodically search the house, going room to room, stopping to smell the air, cocking his head for any sound. When he finally found you, you were given a greeting worthy of royalty, and he’d stick close to you, always nearby. Like Proverbs 18:24, Shadow taught me about friendship.
Frisbee catching was something we never had to teach him — and he could play for hours. Once, when Shadow was around eight, we entered him in a Frisbee disc catching contest. I had never attended such an event, let alone how to best get a high score. I just kept throwing the Frisbee, and Shadow kept bringing it back. When the round was over, Shadow had won second place.
The “Singing” Dog
By far, one of the most unusual things about Shadow was his love for the song, “Happy Birthday”. It didn’t matter where the tune cropped up. A TV commercial, a recorded family video, or even live at one of our many parties for family or friends. When that song popped up — with “Ha-ppy” barely out of your mouth — Shadow would immediately jump up and get this look in his eye. His head would tilt back and mouth hesitantly open. Then – and this is the amazing part – he would attempt to vocalize the song. Sure, there was the occasional howl-like sound, but most often, Shadow could accomplish an almost human-like sound working his jaw along and adding to the hilarity of the moment. His fame and popularity in this area led dozens of our friends to insist that he go on Letterman’s “Stupid Dog Tricks” or “America’s Funniest Home Videos”. Though we have video of him, I’ve still yet to send it in.
My dog’s popularity even extended to special event invitations. It wasn’t unusual to get a call from a close friend who would ask, “Can we borrow Shadow today? We have a birthday party to go to.” They’d then pull their car up to our house, open the door, and Shadow would run out and jump in! My family would often joke that our dog was more popular than us!
I guess in some ways, his “singing” was Shadow’s special way of communicating and having fun with us. Friends always loved it when Shadow would “call” and sing to their kids on their birthdays over the phone. One friend even kept the recording for two years on his cell phone, playing it whenever his children asked. They were also the ones who prayed for him as he was dying, asking that God help the “singing doggie”.
Shadow saw many changes come and go in our family. Halfway into Shadow’s life, he got to see the surprising turn in my own life. When God told me to pray for a group of teenagers in March of 2005 (My story on creative prayer involves this special group) life as I knew it, quite literally began to take on an entirely different path — a path I never could have imagined. One of the things that markedly changed was my prayer time with God. I began communing with God at night (or early mornings) while walking Shadow, and he was perfectly happy accompanying me. Usually at night, we would circle the block, and I’d pray for my neighbors as God would lead. This “Prayer Walking” as I started calling it, felt natural and essential. And there were times that Shadow just seemed to know when and where to start, especially if it sounded like a fight or turmoil was just behind the walls of a particular home. He would stop and stare at the house, and I’d ask God’s Spirit to visit those within. When things quieted, we would move on.
Shadow was also there when I’d be awakened in the night to pray for someone — usually young people. This was, at times, frightening, and an entirely new experience for me. While on my knees before God, usually in my family room, Shadow would come over and nudge me gently with his nose. Kind of his way of just saying, “I’m here if you need me.” Then, he’d retreat to the room’s edge and lay down, keeping a watchful eye on me. In those times of fervent prayer, Shadow’s presence was always nearby. He never seemed to intrude, and I’ve wondered at times if he, like Balaam’s donkey, could see a world that my eyes couldn’t.
Shadow’s love came unconditional, and I welcomed that, even sought to emulate that. He showed an amazing amount of devotion to his family. Oh, what he taught me.
Nearly overnight, Shadow went from a fierce, loyal and spiritual friend, to a hurting and wounded creature. Where once he could soar through the air (nearly five feet, incidentally) and catch Frisbees, now he winced with every paw step. A large tumor would take his life. Shadow was ten.
The grief I felt as I buried him rivaled even the pain I felt burying my dad. (I also explore some of that in my article, When Your Father Dies.) Yet, even in that intense grief God comforted as He alone can do.
Do dogs go to Heaven? Will I see my dog in Heaven?
I see in Scripture that God created animals; they are part of His creation. And while it is people whom God saves and redeems through the cross of Christ, the importance and love of animals in our lives is certainly not just an accident. God knows about the love and joy that that kitten or puppy brings. He knows how attached we can become to His creatures. Would it really be too hard for Him to recreate that beloved pet for His saints in Heaven or the New Earth?
Joni Eareckson Tada, in her book Holiness in Hidden Places, talks about whether she will see her pet schnauzer, Scrappy, in Heaven:
“If God brings our pets back to life, it wouldn’t surprise me. It would be just like Him. It would be totally in keeping with His generous character…. Exorbitant. Excessive. Extravagant in grace after grace. Of all the dazzling discoveries and ecstatic pleasures Heaven will hold for us, the potential of seeing Scrappy would be pure whimsy-utterly, joyfully, surprisingly superfluous…. Heaven is going to be a place that will refract and reflect in as many ways as possible the goodness and joy of our great God, who delights in lavishing love on His children. So will pets be in Heaven? Who knows?”
God’s love – it is extravagant. Seeing Shadow again… the thought of that brings a smile to my face. God made this unusual and unforgettable dog of mine. And I see that friends can come in all shapes and sizes. Shadow’s companionship seemed always selfless, a devoted friend to the end.
You don’t have to be just a human to demonstrate God’s love, compassion or extravagance.
Four legged creatures can do that too… if you let them.
Miss you, Shadow. Hope to see you again someday.