Though my blogs have always been based on real events, I am making an exception for this, my final blog of 2016. I wrote the following story back in 2000 as a Christmas gift for family and friends, and I later shared it with various rescue groups because it captures so many aspects of rescue work that few can understand. Though the story itself is fictional, many of the events are based on real life situations that I, or other rescuers, experienced. I share it as a blessing to you this Christmas season, and I look forward to sharing more examples of the beautiful bond between animals and humans in 2017.
By Troy Kechely
The sounds of ringing bells flowed from the speakers in my truck doors. My fingers tapped along with the music as I mimicked the sound of the bells with my mouth, careful to pay attention as I drove out of my office parking lot. “Carol of the Bells” had always been my favorite Christmas song. Now, with two days remaining till Christmas, I was filled with joyful expectation of the holiday and time with my family. It was going to be the first Christmas in almost three years that I was not undergoing some kind of surgery. I recounted mentally the times I had been operated on to remove the golf ball-sized tumor in my head and then recalled the surgeries required to repair the damage it had done. What affected me the most was after I awoke from the first surgery, and I had been told my heart had stopped and that they had struggled to revive me. I was only 26 and had not even considered dying. Now, three years later, I had overcome my fear of death, trusting more in God and recognizing that He was in control. My dealings with death nowadays were restricted to rescuing Rottweilers, as I often had to recommend that animals be put to sleep. Almost always their aggression was due to bad owners; dogs beaten and neglected to the point that humanity was the enemy. I did not hold it against the dogs when they tried to bite me, but I also recognized that they could never be placed in homes and it was best that they be put down. Thankfully, it had been many months since I last had to make such a recommendation. The dogs at the shelter and in foster homes were all well-behaved and, like typical Rotties, provided daily challenges but nothing out of the ordinary.
Working with such dogs was my one pleasure in life. After the surgeries, my motivation to recover was so that I could return to working with the Rotts at the shelter. I often thought of their dark brown eyes looking towards the door, waiting for me to come during my lunch hour to take them for a walk along the river. Perhaps I pushed too hard to recover but I had to for them.
The song on the cassette ended and a new one began. I turned onto Main Street towards home. I had managed to take the afternoon off so I could pack for my trip to the family ranch in Helena. The roads were covered in snow and ice, typical for Bozeman in December. My tires slipped as they struggled to gain traction as I turned a corner. Pulling into my driveway, I ejected the cassette tape and shut off my truck. With my briefcase in hand, I headed into the house to be greeted by 225 pounds of dog wiggling wildly at my feet. Mickey was the most energetic. A large purebred Rott, she contorted into a C shape as her nub of a tail vibrated. Griz, my Rott/Malamute cross stood next to me, his tail wagging slightly as he let out a barkish howl. I set my briefcase on the table and moved across the living room so I could let the dogs out back. Bounding out the door, they sniffed and marked the snow that covered my backyard. Closing the door, I decided to leave them out for a bit so I could prepare for my trip. My friend John was supposed to come over and ride to Helena with me that night. As I packed I ran through my head all that needed to be done. The phone rang just as I was just letting the dogs back inside. It was one of the local Highway Patrol officers letting me know there were reports of a stray Rottweiler running loose on the Interstate on Bozeman Pass, just east of town. I got the information I needed and then hung up the phone. My mood switched from the joy of packing and the excitement of the holiday to one of serious reservation. The weather outside was bad and it would be dark in only three more hours. With a sigh I convinced myself of what I had to do. Picking up the phone, I called Valerie at the local shelter.
“Hey Val, I just got a call from the Highway Patrol about a Rott on the pass. Do you have room if I can catch him?”
“If we don’t then we’ll make room. Do you need help?” Valerie was one of those women who had an endless source of energy. She claimed her energy came from chocolate and caffeine but I suspected there were other sources, specifically her love of animals. My only problem with her was that she was a cat person. Still, even with that flaw, she was the life and soul of the animal shelter. As the animal care manager, she was the one who allowed me to start working with the Rotts that came in and even used me to do home checks for adoptions.
“Nah, from the sounds of it I think I can get him. When are you closing up?”
“Well, we close at 5:30, but let me give you my cell number and you can call me when you catch him. Is he injured?” Val’s concern for the dog was evident in her voice.
“Not sure, he was on the Frontage Road about 20 minutes ago, so I am hoping he will be easy to find. I will give you a call when I know more, okay?”
Val gave me her cell number and I hung up as Mickey nudged me with her large head, wanting the affection that she had been denied while I was at work. With a pat on the head, I moved her to the side so I could put my boots back on. Griz lay in the corner chewing quietly on a raw hide bone, his eyes on me as I laced up my boots. The phone rang again as I was grabbing my coat.
“Hi, my name is Becky Jacobson. I got your number from the sheriff. There is a stray Rottweiler in my yard.”
It took only a few questions to ascertain that it was the same dog the Highway Patrol had called about. The family that called lived off the Jackson Creek exit near the top of the pass. The Rott was in bad shape and sniffing around their barn. I asked the lady if she would catch the dog and hold him for me. She said she would try as she used to have mastiffs and she was comfortable with larger dogs. Hanging up the phone, I moved quickly to get there, hoping that the dog would be contained when I arrived. I gave my dogs a treat and told them to behave as I grabbed my cold weather overalls and headed out the door. I left the door unlocked and a note taped to it so Johnny would know where I was when he showed up. Saying goodbye to the dogs, I stepped outside into the cold midday air. Starting my truck, I watched the silver cloud that my breath formed as I waited for the engine to warm up.
In less than ten minutes I was on the interstate heading east towards the pass. Although my attention needed to be on the icy road, I could not help but run through different scenarios regarding how the dog might behave when I arrived.
The ride there took longer than expected, but the road conditions kept me from going as fast as I would have liked. Heading up the pass, the snow began to fall more heavily and the wind picked up. I looked at my watch. It had been almost 40 minutes since the first call regarding the dog. Turning off the Jackson Creek exit, I saw the blurred shapes of the few ranches that covered the area. Once on the Frontage Road, I followed the directions Becky Jacobson had given me. Arriving at her house, I pulled in, hoping to see a Rottweiler but, instead, seeing nothing but the falling snow. With my knock, the door was opened and the warmth from inside washed over me.
“You must be Tom. I am so sorry. Right after I talked to you the dog headed down the Frontage Road. I followed him, trying to get him to come to me, but he crossed over the railroad tracks about a half mile up and I couldn’t stay with him.” In her early thirties, Becky ushered me inside as she spoke. A young boy stood behind her looking at me. I smiled at him briefly, the lights of their small Christmas tree giving a cheerful glow to the small ranch house. I got the details of where the dog had gone and quickly left, wanting to find the dog before the weather worsened and darkness fell. I drove up the narrow two lane frontage road. To my right about a hundred yards ran the four lanes of interstate traffic. My eyes scanned everywhere, hoping to see the black form of the dog. At the point where Becky said the dog had left the road I pulled over. I found the tracks of the dog although they were now almost covered with wind-driven snow that was falling all the harder. I put on my overalls and grabbed a flash light, leash, and a can of cat food. Valerie had taught me that trick. The pop top can of cat food often was enough to entice a hungry dog to come close enough to be caught.
With everything in hand, I headed off the road towards the railroad tracks. Stepping off the shoulder of the road, I found the snow to be over two feet deep. Forcing myself through the drift, I managed to follow the trail of the dog to the embankment of crushed rock that formed the base of the railroad tracks. The steel tracks were almost clear of snow because of the half dozen freight trains that lumbered up the pass each day. It was easier to walk with the thinner snow cover on the tracks, but impossible to see where the dog had gone. Taking a guess, I walked east, following the tracks towards the tunnel, hoping that he had taken shelter in the 200-yard-long underpass. As I neared the entrance, the tracks cut through the rock, leaving a steep slope to a ditch and then a solid rock wall on either side of the tracks. Praying that a train wasn’t due, I proceeded toward the tunnel. Turning on my flash light, I entered the dark cavern. The beam of light swept along the floor for the dog. I also was looking at the end of the tunnel to see if my movement would force the dog into the light that beckoned from the other end. Approaching the end of the tunnel, I felt the wind as it funneled into the cavern. The light from the snow was almost blinding after spending several minutes in the darkness of the tunnel. I looked all around to see if there were signs that the dog had passed that way but nothing could be seen. I decided to head back and look closely at both sides of the tracks to be sure that I had not missed any tracks leading from the railroad embankment.
Back on the other side, I searched the sides of the tracks, noticing uneasily how quickly my tracks had become covered. I began to lose hope of finding the dog. I paused briefly to check the dark mouth of the tunnel behind me. My concerns about a train coming took precedence for the moment. With the wind howling past me I knew I would not hear a train until it was too late. I also knew that any approaching train would be going very slow as it labored to make the top of the pass, giving me time to get out of the way, if I saw it coming.
Flexing my hands restored some warmth to my stiff fingers. The storm had intensified. Pulling back the sleeve on my overalls I noted the time. It had been almost two hours since the first call. I could not see my truck through the swirling snow and growing darkness, but I knew it was parked almost a mile down the tracks. Heading towards it, I kept looking at the ground, hoping for any sign of the dog. Perhaps he had been picked up or had been able to find shelter. Sadly, I knew that even with shelter it would take a lot for the dog to survive if it was in as bad a condition as had been described.
About 75 yards west of the tunnel, I saw a path carved into the deep snow across the ditch, at the bottom of the railroad embankment. I followed the tracks, moving carefully down the slick, rocky slope. The other side of the ditch was very steep but flattened out about twelve feet up. I was almost to the ditch when my footing failed and I plunged through the ice covering the foot-deep water. I was able to keep one leg out, quickly but my left pant leg was quickly saturated. The icy water sucked the heat from my skin, and even with my overalls I could feel my leg begin to numb up. Cursing silently, I regained my footing and made the leap to the other side of the ditch. My urgency was now not only for the sake of the dog but also for myself. With the temperature dropping, I was at risk of frost bite. I struggled up the slope, following the windblown path made in the snow. At first I thought they might be deer tracks but after brushing away some snow, I clearly made out the large paw print of a dog. With renewed hope of finding the dog, I crawled up the last bit of the slope and found myself on a bench about 40 feet wide and 100 feet long. At the end was the mouth of an old train tunnel, closed to use almost 40 years previously. The chain link fence, intended to keep people out, was mangled from countless trespasses s by local teenagers looking for a place to explore. The path in the deep snow led to an opening on the left side of the fence. Pulling out the flash light, I wedged myself through the opening, wondering what the darkness held for me. If the dog was still in there I ran the risk of cornering it and it may attack out of fear. Still, at least I would be able to get a hand on it and subdue it. I swept the light back and forth as I crept deeper into the tunnel. I could smell the pungent odor of infection as I proceeded. Soon my light passed over a mass of black fur. I froze as the light shown over a curled-up form. I moved closer, seeing clearly the black and tan markings of a large male Rott. I could see most of his ribs through the shivering, dull fur that covered him.
“Hey pup. Hey puppy. It’s ok. You want to go for a drive? How about a treat?”
My efforts to elicit a response went unheeded. I moved closer, wanting to gain control of his collar in case he awoke. Expecting at least some kind of reaction, I was surprised when the dog did not even move as my gloved fingers touched its neck. The logging chain that encircled it was so tight I could not get a finger under it. I realized that the dog was dying of exposure and I had to act fast. Disregarding the risk, I knelt and took the dog in my arms. Judging by his size I figured he should weigh a healthy 120 pounds, but upon lifting him I realized that he was lucky if he weighed 75. He let out a whine as I lifted him but he did not struggle, his strength long since taken by the harsh Montana winter. As I carefully made my way to the tunnel’s entrance I noticed a glow in the distance. Like a falling star, it seemed to grow larger. For a moment I was startled, not sure what it was until I heard the harsh, shrill whistle of the approaching freight train. As the train lumbered by I forced myself through the hole in the fence and made my way to the edge of the bench that fell to the ditch. I stood holding the dog as the train passed, car by car. As the last car went by I saw that along with the red warning light on the back, someone had made a star out of Christmas lights. I chuckled, glad that someone had taken the time to remember Christmas while working. Knowing I couldn’t safely walk down the steep slope with the dog in my arms, I fell to my butt and slid down. My feet crashed through the ice once more, this time soaking both of my legs. I wasn’t worried. I had less than a mile to the truck and its heater. I made my way up the railway embankment and then headed east along the tracks. As I walked I prayed silently that the dog would live. I could not feel breathing but tried not to think about that fact as I continued walking. The pant legs of my overalls were frozen solid by the time I reached the truck. Opening the passenger door, I laid the dog on the seat and quickly wrapped him with an old poncho liner I kept handy for emergencies. I now heard his breathing, short and raspy, as if he had congestion. Closing the door, I went to the driver side and got in, starting the truck and setting the heater on maximum.
After letting the truck heat up I turned around and headed down the road, shivering slightly as my body struggled to regain warmth like the dog next to me. I stopped at the Jacobson’s house since they were the ones who had seen the dog originally. Becky opened the door before I could knock.
“Did you find him?” The worry on her face was genuine.
“Yes, but he is almost dead. Can I use your phone to call the shelter?”
Becky’s husband was home and they both quickly invited me in. As I dialed Val’s number at the shelter, they stood and watched, their faces solemn and concerned. Becky peeked out the window briefly to see if the dog was visible in my truck. The couple’s son sat playing on the table as I heard the phone ring through the headset. Val’s welcome voice answered.
“Val, this is Tom. I’ve got the dog, but he is in bad shape. Won’t even move. Can you get Dr. Murray in?”
“Sure can, I already gave him a heads-up about it. He can be here in 15 minutes. Do you think it’s hypothermia?”
“Yeah, that and severe malnutrition and possible abuse. I’m up Jackson Creek and should be at the shelter in about 20 minutes. Where do you want him?” Valerie thought for a moment on what room was available.
“Well, let’s put him in the spay/neuter trailer for now. When he’s healthy we’ll figure out where to put him. Does he have any tags?”
“No, just a logging chain. Looks like the damned thing was welded on. It’s tight on his neck so we will have to cut it off. He also reeks of infection, but I haven’t had time to look him over really well.”
“Lovely, well hurry down and Doc Murray and I will be ready.”
“Thanks Val, see you in a bit.”
I promptly thanked the couple for letting me use their phone. Becky’s husband had listened to most of the conversation.
“Heck of a way to start the holiday, huh?” I looked back at him and shook my head.
“No, really kind of sucks to tell you the truth. Thanks again. If you hear of who might own this dog please call the shelter, okay?” They both nodded and wished me a Merry Christmas as I stepped back out into the cold mountain air. Opening the door to my truck, I was greeted by the rank odor of the previously mentioned infection. The Rottweiler did not move, though he was still breathing. Pulling out onto the icy road, I heading towards Bozeman. The snow was falling more heavily r as my headlights forged a path through the falling flakes. The traffic on the interstate was sparse as I made my way through the canyon curves at the bottom of the pass. All the while I kept one hand on the massive head of the Rott lying next to me. I could feel that he had scars on one of his ears and muzzle. The smell of the infection hung heavy in the truck, forcing me to open the window a crack to allow fresh air in. After 25 minutes I was turning into the shelter, the sky a dark grey as night settled in. I pulled up to the trailer that served as the spay/neuter clinic. Val was waiting by the door and rushed out to help me. As gently as we could, we pulled the Rott out of the truck and carried him up the metal stairs into the warmth of the trailer. I said hello to Dr. Murray as he motioned us into one of the exam rooms. I removed the poncho liner from the dog. In the harsh light of the room we were exposed to the desperate condition of the dog. All of his ribs showed as did many scars, several longer than my forearm. Val shook her head as she tried to find a vein in which to administer an IV. Trying to stay out of the way, I watched as the doctor and Val tried to get the dog’s body temp up and deal with any life-threatening issues. After almost an hour, the dog opened its eyes, but I could see that its strength was gone.
“Not much else we can do at this point. I’ll be honest, I don’t think he’ll make it through the night. If he does it will be a miracle.” Dr. Murray’s face was strained with his words.
“Supposed to be the season of miracles isn’t it? I guess we will just have to see.” I walked over and placed my hand on the broad forehead of the dog. His eyes followed my hand as it approached, filled with fear but relaxing when he realized that I wasn’t going to hit him. I saw that the chain collar was much tighter than it should be and I made a quick decision. I went out to my truck and, after a few moments of digging through my tools, I found my bolt cutter. Walking back into the exam room, I noted Val’s look of confusion.
“If he dies he is not doing so with that damned chain on his neck.” Valerie nodded and held the dog’s head as I cut through the links of chain. The Rott did not move until we started to remove the chain itself. The smell of infection suddenly grew worse. The links had been imbedded in his skin. As we pulled the chain slowly from his neck, the dog growled in discomfort but did not fight. The chain, once removed, revealed deep wounds, each draining pus. Val kept shaking her head in disbelief.
“This is why I don’t like people.” she said. Both Dr. Murray and I agreed with her.
“I think we need pictures of this, Val. If we find the person who did this I am going to make sure he is nailed to a wall.” Dr. Murray stepped out of the exam room and returned shortly with the shelter camera. Two rolls of film later we had documented every injury the dog had, including three circular burn marks that Dr. Murray figured to be cigarette burns. With little else to be done, Dr. Murray left, telling us to call if anything changed. Val and I stayed. I sat by the dog’s head, my hand stroking him gently. Expecting to be snapped at, I looked the dog in the eye, watching for the glimmer of life to return to him. The dog stared back at me, no aggression in his stare though he certainly had the right to hate me given all the abuse he had endured at the hand of man. Still, the dog did not move, not even lifting his head as I stroked his soft, black hair. Val checked his pulse and I could tell by her face that it wasn’t strong.
I prayed silently, the first time in months that I had talked with God for more than a few seconds. Now I felt overwhelmed to ask God to spare this dog, to give him the chance at life that he had never had before. I watched as Val changed the IV bag hanging from a pole next to the exam table. My fingers continued to gently rubbed the dog’s head. Slowly, I moved my hand down to his muzzle, closer to his mouth, partially to scratch by his nose as my dogs always enjoyed the same, but also to see if he would bite, to gauge if there was any anger in him. As my hand drew closer, the dog moved his head slightly. With total tenderness, the dog licked my hand once. I paused, startled by the act of tenderness, and watched the life fade from his eyes. The light of the Rottweiler’s eyes dissipated slowly until it disappeared completely. This was something I had seen many times growing up on a ranch, in the death of a calf or a deer I had shot, yet now this moment pierced me deeply. I hung my head for an instant, allowing my hand to continue touching the nose of the dog.
“It’s over, Val.” Val looked down and tried to find a pulse but acknowledged what I already knew.
“I’m sorry Tom. Doc said that he might not pull through.” I took a deep breath and stood up, still allowing my fingers to touch the short hair on the dog’s muzzle. I swallowed my emotions and looked to Val.
“How do you want to handle this?” Val asked, referring to the disposal of the body. She was noticeably drained from the ordeal. Her normal level of energy had been zapped by the loss of the dog.
“We have pictures in case we ever find the person who did this. So, I say we let this boy go. I can get the crematorium fired up and deal with it tonight. Do you want the ashes?” I thought for a moment about her question, wondering what benefit I would gain by keeping the ashes. I had only known the dog for five hours, yet something told me that was exactly what I should do. I replied yes and grabbed my coat, poncho liner, and bolt cutters. After putting things away in my truck, I helped Val carry the dog into the crematorium. I watched as she slid his body into the fire chamber and closed the door. I couldn’t speak or cry, and I simply watched in cold numbness as she activated the burners. The room filled with the heat and roar of the flames as they began their work. I walked outside and breathed in the cold, crisp air. Val came out and stood with me as we watched the snow gently fall to the ground.
“Gonna be cold tonight,” I spoke for no reason besides making small talk. Val nodded.
“Yeah, they say it will be below zero. You still heading over to Helena?”
“Yeah, my friend should be at my place by now. I suppose I should get going so we won’t be too late. Thanks for all you did Val. When you see the doc tell him thanks as well.”
“I will Tom, have a safe trip tonight, okay.” I walked to my truck, trying to keep my mind from focusing on anything besides my footsteps. As I drove home, I allowed the sound of the engine and the tires digging into the snow to keep my attention. The ten minutes it took to get home felt as though I was in a time warp. The passing cars and falling snow created a surreal experience. I saw that the house lights were on, which meant that John must have gotten my note. I opened the door to see that Mickey was laying on the couch with John as he watched TV. Griz was by the door, and soon both dogs were at my feet, wanting my affection and sniffing at the odors that had accumulated during the evening.
“Where you been, butt munch?” John was rarely tactful, but his friendship was never in question. When he saw my face he realized that his question was in poor taste. I sat on the couch and allowed Griz and Mickey to come over for petting.
“Crappy night, John, a really crappy night.”
“Did you find the dog?”
“Not a good ending, I take it?”
“No John, not a good ending. You ready to go?”
“Yeah, just have to throw my gear in the truck. You?”
“Got packed before I got the phone call, but I don’t want to talk about it now. Let’s get on the road before the weather worsens and Dad thinks I was in a wreck.”
John, the dogs, and I were loaded in my truck and on the road in less than 15 minutes. After getting gas and a bite to eat we drove in silence.
“You got any music to listen to?” John was finishing up a cigarette as he asked.
“Just Christmas music, and I know how much you love that stuff,” my sarcasm clear in my answer.
“What they heck, it’s better than nothing.” I leaned over and pushed the cassette into the tape player on my dashboard. Soon the familiar songs of Christmas flowed from the speakers. The songs helped keep my mind from wandering to the memory of the life that had faded from the dog’s eyes. A song that I had not heard before came on. As I listened to the lyrics a tear formed in my eye.
The blessed dawn of Christmas Day
I pray one day my heart will see
The light of God’s eternity
And know that Jesus died for me
Now close my eyes
So I may rise
At blessed dawn of Christmas Day
“Why the hell did he have to lick me?” I suddenly blurted.
John looked at me as if I was nuts.
“What are you talking about? Who licked you?”
“The dog, he licked my hand. He had every reason to bite me and he licked me. After all the abuse he had received, he licked me. He didn’t even know who I was. For all he knew I was just another human going to hit him. Instead he licked me.”
John realized that I was starting to vent. We had been friends for over 24 years. He had been by my side when my parents divorced, and I had been with him when he and his wife separated and finally divorced themselves. Though we had many differences, our common bond of friendship and a shared love of animals allowed him to see what I was going through.
“Maybe he knew you were trying to help.”
“How could he? My God, John, someone had burned him with cigarettes. What kind of bastard does that? That dog never even had a chance. From the scars I saw, this dog never had a chance at life at all. Yet he licked me....right before he died. I hate doing that, considering an animal’s eyes as it dies. Hunting is one thing. At least there is a challenge and I eat what I kill, but this dog had no chance. No chance at all.”
“Yeah, he did Tom, you gave him that chance. It just might have been too late is all.” I remained silent for a moment as the emotion continued to swell within my chest.
“I’m not sure I want to do this anymore.”
“Rescue. I am thinking that the sacrifice is too much. Hell, look at me. I am 29 years old, and I don’t date, I don’t do anything. Why? Because I spend all my time with Rottweilers. What kind of life is that?” John knew that the answers to my questions were in me already. He shrugged in the dim light of the truck’s dashboard.
“The kind of life that you have chosen. If not you, then who?”
“I don’t know.”
“It sounds to me like you are having a pity party. I have been with you while you worked with the dogs at the shelter. You love doing it. You know you do.” I couldn’t argue with John’s statement. The pleasure the Rotts at the shelter got when I took them for walks over my lunch hour was something I did, indeed, enjoy.
“After your tumor was removed you went off on that religious kick, remember? You were talking about God and about how you were born again. I didn’t buy it for a while there, but I saw something in you change. I don’t know if I believe all the stuff you say about Jesus, but I do remember some of the things you talked about. You told me that when Jesus was crucified He asked God the Father to forgive those killing Him, right? You said that was true forgiveness and true sacrifice. Maybe, just maybe, that dog was doing the same thing, forgiving you, as a human, for all the crap it had received from humans. And just maybe God was using that to get your attention. You say Christ died for your sins, well the sacrifice you make for those dogs seems small compared to what He did for you. Or are all the things you say you believe a bunch of garbage?”
My hands gripped the steering wheel tightly as John’s words sank in. It was not the issue of my sacrifice for the dogs but the topic of forgiveness that hurt. Realizing that Jesus had forgiven those who killed him, I had to question who I was willing to forgive myself. My anger at seeing the abuse and subsequent death of the Rott that night was focused on the people who had done such a thing to a magnificent animal. Yet, I knew that I needed to forgive them whether they asked for forgiveness. Judgement was to be reserved for God alone. Tears gently traced paths down my cheeks.
We drove on as the music continued to play over the stereo. My heart, mind, and soul conflicted with one another. My thoughts returned to the gentle lick of my hand by the dog. I silently asked God why He had let him die. Not expecting an answer, I posed the question for my own analysis perhaps. John pulled out a couple of cigars he had been saving as a gift for me. Trying to relax, I lit the cigar and allowed the flavor to calm me. I cracked the window a bit to allow the smoke to escape and the noise of the road to rush in along with the cold night air. John had lit his cigar and was puffing away quietly. He looked through the back of the cab of my truck into the topper to make sure that my dogs were okay and not eating his duffle bag. Turning back to look down the road, he took a puff on the cigar and then looked at me.
“What was his name?” I took my eyes from the road for an instant and looked at John.
“The dog, what was his name?” I looked back at the road and realized that during the whole ordeal the issue of the dog’s name had never entered my mind.
“I don’t know, he didn’t have any tags. I guess I didn’t think about it much. I was more worried about saving him.”
“A dog shouldn’t die without a name, just wouldn’t be proper.”
“No, I don’t suppose it would.”
“So, what should you name him?” I shrugged in uncertainty. It was at that moment that something the pastor of my church had said returned to my mind.
“His name was Venia.”
John looked over at me as if I was nuts.
“That sounds like a girl’s name. Where did you pull that one out of?”
“It’s Latin for forgiveness.” John was silent upon hearing the name’s meaning, the sound of the truck mixed with the soft Christmas carols emanating from the speakers filling the cab.
“I like it. Venia it is. Very appropriate.” I nodded as everything that had happened finally fell into place in my mind.
“Forgiveness through sacrifice. Heck of a concept, huh?” John took another puff of his cigar as I turned up the volume.
“The meaning of Christmas, I believe.” John nodded as he leaned his head back, enjoying his cigar. The sound of ringing bells was crisp and clear as “Carol of the Bells” began to play. My fingers tapped softly on the steering wheel as I allowed the music to reacquaint my spirit with Christmas. In silence John and I listened to the music, captive to our own thoughts as we continued our journey down the highway.
AfterwordThe search for the dog was a real event and took place exactly as I described. The fictional aspect of the story is that I never found him. I lost his tracks in the drifts near the railroad tunnel. To this day I don’t know what happened to that lost Rottweiler. The descriptions of the wounds and condition of the dog are real, and I know of countless dogs who have come into shelters or rescues in similar condition. The lick, the act of love by the dog, yes, I’ve seen that too. This is why I love dogs the way I do. We can learn a lot from them regarding the act of forgiveness.
Merry Christmas everyone.
Troy B. Kechely
|Carly and Bradum in 2015. Bradum passed away Aug. 1, 2016.