The Dog Who Never Talked.

 

If you read this blog via email, stop right now and go to the blog on the website. There’s a lot of photos and video, and you won’t get the full impact unless you can see the visuals. Thanks. 

 

I have been blessed in my life to have a great number of canine companions. Not all of them have lived with me, some belonged in the home of a friend, or were dogs I just met along the way and got to be friends with in some manner.

Most of my dogs had voices. That is probably more reflective of my imagination than their actual voices, yet all but one had a voice. Those voices, honed to a very sharp edge, formed the basis of my first major commercial contract as a voice over talent. None of those voices was that of a soaking wet Sheltie, but I wish one had been.

One did not have a human voice that was easily heard. Only one remained effectively mute for all of her days. Only one did her pleading with her eyes, almost never vocalizing her pleasure, disgust, anger, or needs. Only one was an occasional barker at worst. Only one died silent in this regard: Stormy.

For those of you who have followed the blog for many years, you will find this to be sad news. God knows I’m working very hard not to start sobbing while I write these words, because I sure loved that dog.

Stormy came to us as a rescue in the eighth year of her life. She was a two-time loser in the rescue game, and that surprised me. She was neurotic, but anyone that lives with me is liable to wind up that way. But outside of an extreme fearfulness when she came to live with us, she was one of the most gentle creatures I’ve had the pleasure to know.

She had a very “soft” mouth” and would only take food if it was tossed out on the rug or gently handed to her. She never snapped at it. Come to think of it, in the 6.5 years she lived with us she never growled, snapped, snarled, or expressed anger of any sort. Except for airplanes, squirrels, hose water, and birds – she hated everything in the sky, and the picture below was a common sight at our house: Stormy getting ready to shoot down an enemy. Other than that, if she didn’t like something, she just left the room. Kind of like Friday when she left the room for the last time.

Always a finicky eater, she would go days without eating and then polish off two bowls in 8 hours. Almost always she quit eating when a dog-sitter came to take care of her on our trips out of town. After a few days she’d resume eating, but only once her protest about our absence had been logged.

Recently, my wife and I took some road trips. I left first, and so it was only after my wife left on her trip that the dog quit eating. She went a week without much at all. Upon my return I bribed her with french fries and cheese, and she began eating a little, but not much. She was still very sad about my wife being gone – yes, she loved my wife more, and that’s okay. I love my wife more as well.

In any event, Stormy never really went back to eating well after my wife returned, and this past Friday it came to a head: she was having output issues, and hadn’t eaten her beloved biscuits for two days.  This  was  noticed  by  a slim  margin,  because  I’d  spent  a day  in  the hospital  for  an  emergency  issue,  and  it  became  “Joe-centric”  for  a few  days.  (I’m fine,  thanks  for  asking.)

My wife took her to the vet hospital, and I decided to leave work and join them: bad feelings and a nudge from God told me I needed to be with them both. I arrived just before the test results came back: kidney failure.

No matter how big an optimist you are, the prognosis for a 15 year old Sheltie is not positive when the kidneys go. They can do a sort of flush to clean out the system, but this requires hospitalization, and Stormy hated being gone from the house. When we took family trips, she refused to eat, poop, or pee for days at a time. She didn’t even like leaving the house for a walk. So that was out. It would only make her miserable, and prolong her life for our benefit, not hers.

And so, with great sadness, we held her in our arms while the shots were given. She didn’t struggle. I think she knew it was time to leave the building for the last time. She wasn’t in great pain, but that was coming. She left loved, soaked in tears, and leaving two shattered old people in her wake.

I learned a lot from Stormy. I learned about overcoming fear. I learned about unconditional love. I learned about always checking the back yard for monsters before she would go outside. I learned to laugh about having to stand on the back step in blistering sunlight, -20 cold, and driving rain while she did her business – always with an eye toward me to make sure I was watching over her.  

You see, she didn’t trust me at first. And then she did. Whether she came to me for protection during thunderstorms, or hid behind me when the pizza was delivered, or simply came to me to tell me she loved me with those big eyes and her silly grin, she trusted me. I was finally, in just the last months of her life, able to look her in the eye from inside arms length: she no longer feared that a man would beat her if he could grab her. I take that as a great honor.

In her last days she did some other unusual things. She actually stayed in the room while I recorded an audio book chapter, instead of fleeing to the bathroom (forever to be known as her office) and hiding from me. She came by more and more for just a little bit of contact, or put her paws on the couch to be hugged.

My greatest missed item was that in 6.5 years she never licked my face. She couldn’t risk it. I could see she wanted that kind of closeness, but it was a bridge too far. I often wonder what she would have been like if we’d had her as a puppy. I don’t regret it since I don’t have a time machine, but she was such a good soul that I wish I’d been there to love her from her first days.

Kip and I loved her deeply. And we’re proud to have given her a forever home where she was safe, loved, and treated well. We talked to her a lot, and on Sunday I went through all my photos for the last 7 years. She was in the vast majority of them. And the best ones were taken from the steps in the back yard where we spent  countless hours of joyful communion of souls. I will probably cry tonight when I get off work and she’s not there to join me on the back step. I spent that time with her every day I could for all those years, and usually prior to laying eyes on my wife. Not because I loved her more than my wife, but because that was “her time” each day just like when we got up early and laid on the rug for a few minutes. She met me in the hallway when I woke up, and at the back door when I got home.

Bless you, Stormy, you were an awesome friend. 

I put in a bunch of photos for you if you’re of a mind to look. They cover the very first photo I took of her until the very last one at the vet. She was even a cover-girl for a rescue calendar a few years ago. Some of the photos are special, and I put them in despite the blurry image. There’s one in the car – first ride together, and that ride led to Petco, where we got a stranger to take our photo. Others are taken next to Lake Superior where she refused to poop – it wasn’t home – and still others catch her sneezing. She had a great sneeze, usually followed with a blob of green snot that she wiped off on me. 

 

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And, before the gallery, a couple of my favorite videos from the years. The first is the one that makes me laugh and cry now. I miss that joy she would display when she felt safe. And on that day, soaking wet and heart thumping, she felt safe and able to express her joy. Today, my heart is simply broken, but the joy of her gracing our lives is right there under the surface. 

I’m hoping another rescue dog will come into our lives. It’s incredibly rewarding to save a life, improve a life, and share a life of one of these beautiful creatures. I’m going to stop now, and dry those tears that are blurring my vision. It’s suddenly very dusty in here. 

Adios, Stormy. See you on the other side. 

 

 

Book Review: A Dream Within – Five Stars

Two weeks ago I called the author, Jamie Greening, and attempted to interview him for this blog. That worked out like it usually does when I talk to Jamie: we strayed from the topic immediately and wound up concluding the call 30 minutes later with no hint of an interview.

In the past, I have gone on to simply make up the interview based on knowledge of the author. I’ve always told you that’s the case, so it wasn’t like I was Joe Biden or something. But today I will not fabricate, plagiarize, or recycle an old interview with Brandy Vallance and just change the names. (Her books, by the way, are excellent and should be read!)

Instead I will tell you that Jamie is one of the top writers in any genre. His books are always a delight, and while his profile photo has been used to gain contributions to several soup kitchens by organizations that ignore copyright laws, he’s a fine human with a heart of gold.

Far from homeless, he’s gainfully employed as a pastor, and as an author. I first met him in the middle of a hay field in Wisconsin. Nothing deep there, no bodies to be buried under the light of the moon, but we both have the same publisher, Athanatos Publishing Group, and are part of a stable of excellent writers who inhabit the outskirts of Christian fiction. Any of the authors you find there will give a great read, but premier among them is Jamie Greening.

His latest book, A Dream Within, is part of the Butch Gregory series, and by far the finest of the lot. My review from Amazon is below, but suffice it to say that you need to buy a copy of this, and then promptly review it yourself on Amazon.

Jamie Greening has always colored outside the lines in his writing. That’s what makes him worth reading. Anyone with more than a modicum of ability can write the bland version of Christian fiction. All that is required is a lack of character depth, no cursing, no violence, and at most in the sex department, two white people almost kissing.

Greening sinks his teeth into some of the great moral issues of our day in his books, and yet this book is a departure from his usual story telling – and it is magnificent. Instead of a continuing narrative involving the characters he’s evolved over the course of writing his past novels, he throws them all into a world where ambiguity, evil, and differing points of view provide pieces to the story, and challenge each of the primary characters.

I read the book in very short order. It was one of those reads that made you resent your employer for insisting that you be awake at work and not flipping through the book that kept you up all night to savor the best parts once again.

His writing is always engaging, and with the exception of one very strange expression involving circling a city block (must be a Texas thing) the work is flawless.

I heartily recommend the book and give it five stars for being exactly what Christian fiction needs. And, if you aren’t a Christian fiction reader, read it anyway – there’s a darned good yarn being told.

This Is An Apology

I tried to add a photo gallery today. But it changed the entire site. No content was lost, but I need to add back some of the good stuff on the side bar. Please bear with me as I fix my update so it looks nice. In the meantime, you’re stuck with a picture of me eating a caramel ice cream cone.

These Aren’t My Pants, Officer.

One of the things I like to do each week is catch up on my homies at Live PD on the A&E network. Each week, 32 different camera teams in 8 different departments ride along with officers on patrol. The departments are as varied as Warwick, RI, Salinas, CA, and the Oklahoma State Police. With a wide variety of departments (which change every few weeks/months) you get exposed to a lot of different law enforcement agencies, a variety of outrageously stupid criminals, and enough misery to break the heart of Jesus for three hours every Friday and Saturday night.

I’ve written about the show previously on the blog (okay, I’m a fanboy) and if you want to get the full joy of this posting today, you need to watch an episode, or twenty, to have the same level of appreciation that regular watchers have over the items below.

Some things are a constant. It doesn’t matter if the doofus in question is black, white, brown, red, or some combination of the above, and covered in mud to boot, you will hear the following things said, and the following situations occur on a weekly basis. I feel cheated if I don’t hear at least three of these items each week during my “watch party.”

“These aren’t my pants.” In the vernacular of the mopes that appear on the show, this phrase is usually uttered when the officer who’s stopped them finds dope/a sex toy/or a weapon in their pocket. It happens regularly. The embellishments can continue for twenty minutes if you were to stick with the scene, and include “My roommate must have taken my pants and left these. I don’t do dope,” and the ever popular “That *@($ I live with must have put that in my pocket. I ain’t never seen that gun before.”

Close behind the above, is the equally stupid phrase: “These aren’t my socks.” How a 1/2 pound of methamphetamine worked it’s way into their sock is evidently a mystery, but I suspect it may be explained away in the same manner as the mystery pantaloons noted above.

When the individuals aren’t being exposed as being body dysphoric with unusual clothing items they hadn’t noticed, they frequently explain their bad driving with the words, “I only had a shot/two beers.” In my time as a cop, that usually translated to: 1/2 bottle of bourbon, or a 12-pack of cheap beer. It is always amusing to watch them struggle to pass the field-sobriety test that inevitably follows the lie regarding consumption.

A related phrase has become popular in the recent past, “I smoked it/shot it/ate it a long time ago.” Evidently the relative time frame that attaches to narcotics use is akin to the amount of time Microsoft says remains on your update. You know, the one that goes from 92 minutes to 7 minutes and back to 45 minutes in the span of mere seconds. Almost always, upon closer examination, the individuals admit that they were actually smoking the joint as the red lights appeared in their rear-view mirror.

Many of these same non-linear Time Lords have a similar understanding of what the words “Is there anything else in the car that’s illegal?” mean. This phrase is always uttered by the officer who has already discovered an open bottle of liquor, a bag of crystal meth, or a loaded handgun wedged into the seat. Only rarely will anyone say that they have additional bad things in the vehicle. I enjoy the look of horror when the K-9 officer arrives a few moments later to search the vehicle. In 9 out of 10 cases (at least) the car contains something else. In this list of “I ain’t got ’nuffin” I have seen 20 pounds of marijuana, an AK-47, a sawed-off shotgun, and a host of smaller items like machetes/daggers/and sex toys beyond counting. (Not that they’re illegal, but do you really want to find one stuck in the seat cushion while searching the car?)

Almost last, but certainly not least, when the officers ask for a name, or identification, it’s mind-bending how many members of the public travel about with nothing on them. No credit cards, no identity card, not even a discount card at the local weed dispensary for being a great customer. Often, after the name and birth date they give proves to be false, a mystery identity card is located in their wallet during the custodial search before they go into the patrol car.

Even more surprising, most of them are driving on a suspended/revoked license, and over 1/2 have a warrant of some kind for their arrest.

When this is revealed, the suspect INVARIABLY says that they took care of the warrant that afternoon, and it just isn’t out of the system yet, and/or that they were going to register the vehicle/get insurance for the vehicle/or renew their license on Monday. (The show airs on Friday and Saturday nights.)

Seriously? Do they expect the police just to throw them a bone and let them continue to drive on their 10th suspension of license? Evidently.

I guess that is the short list. If you would like to add your favorites, just put in a comment and I’ll gladly do an update in the near future.

In the meantime: wear your own pants when you leave the house.

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My second novel, Nicholas of Haiti, is now available. Go fetch your credit card for the Kindle, print, and audio book versions. This is not a sequel to Assault on Saint Agnes, but a unique book in the speculative Christian fiction world.

Audio book cover on the left, Kindle cover on the right.

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The Watering Hole.

The new one tried to look around the shabby American Legion post, squinting tightly after coming in from the brightness outside. Once his eyes adjusted to the gloom, he was able to spot a few souls scattered at tables around the room.

Puzzling over the old-school uniforms at a couple of the tables, he finally recognized a unit patch he’d seen in Afghanistan. He walked to the table, pulled out a chair, and turned it around. Planting himself in the chair, he introduced himself to the other two. Returning the courtesy, there fell a silence on the table.

Around the room others were sitting silently at the tables as well, pitchers of beer glistening in the center of each. Realizing that there was to be no service for them, he flipped over one of the old-fashioned beer glasses and poured himself a cool one.
Draining the glass, he picked up the pitcher, marveled that it was full to the brim again, and poured himself another glass.

After the fourth one had settled in his stomach, he relaxed a bit and realized that the other two at the table had done the same.

“You guys just get here?”

“Here at the Legion, or here in the afterlife.”

Jeremy had to wrap his head around that for a moment before he could answer.
“Say, is that what happened? Last thing I remember I was walking out in the country along a canal of some kind. Next thing I know I’m in the doorway here looking at you guys. We’re all dead?

Frank tilted another sip past his lips and nodded. “I figured it out a bit ago. I saw Brad, he indicated the third man at the table, take a round in the head right before my lights went out. Only logical conclusion. I figure we’re getting ready to go wherever it is we’ll wind up and this is our last chance for a beer.”

Brad shook his head. “You’ve got it wrong. We’re already in Heaven. On Earth this would be almost a year after we got hit. I came to in Heaven and some of the old timers explained it to me. Seems we get kind of a 24 hour pass and can take back our bodies for a beer on that first Memorial Day that you’re dead, but only one. Seems it’s the special compensation you get for dying in combat.”

Jeremy nodded slowly. “That kind of fits. It’s all bits and fragments. I could have sworn I was at my own funeral just a bit ago. I must have been.”

Brad asked, “Many people there?”

Jeremy had to think for a minute. “No, just my family and a couple of guys from high school.”

“Yeah, that’s what everyone is saying lately. The enthusiasm is gone. Our war, our deaths, are forgotten now that major combat is over. Nobody puts any value on our lives.”
A new voice from an adjoining table lifted up over the click of glasses and pitchers, “Same for us. Nobody cared when our guys died. As a matter of fact, most of them resented us and you could feel the scorn from every set of eyes as you got into the world. And there were a lot of caskets for them to hate. They didn’t know us, and never said a nice word about us until the day we died.”

“Us too.” That one came from a table ten feet away. Without a signal of any kind, all of the men stood up and pushed their tables together. Introductions went around the circle.
Assembled in the forgotten Legion post were veterans of two score of conflicts from the Aleutians to Afghanistan. Men who’d served in Korea, the East German border areas, the Korean DMZ, and half-a-dozen different recon aircrews from the Cold War era all chatted and swilled beer.

None of them had gotten a parade upon the end of their war. None had been honored with a plaque on the wall of the local high school. All felt that the world had forgotten them in the past.

The door was slammed back against the wall, and the skirl of bagpipes broke the somber mood. A line of pipers in kilts marched through the door, a drum-major leading them with his baton. Filling the perimeter of the room, they circled the men while playing the various service anthems.

After all the anthems had been played, each group coming to attention as their service was recognized, the band broke into “The Star Spangled Banner.” Every eye gleamed as the words to the song echoed off the walls, and the shabby Legion post seemed transformed, now appearing to be a successful gentleman’s club

Once the last pipe hummed to silence, George Patton strode into the room, followed closely be several other military leaders of great historical import.

“Gentlemen. We are here, as your fellow veterans, to honor you on this day. Memorial day comes but once a year, and all of you have joined us since the last ceremony. You might think your war is forgotten, but a grateful horde of your brothers recognizes your role in preserving democracy. Each nation up here gets a day to do this, and today is our turn. Now, let’s end the pity party and break out the hard stuff. On the tables in front of them there appeared the finest crystal glasses, and a bottle of each man’s favorite beverage. The drinks ranged from Nehi soda to ancient bourbon.

“Now, pour yourself a glass and let’s raise a toast.”

General Patton lifted his glass as the rest filled theirs. “Gentlemen: to the Armed Forces of our beloved nation, and all who have given their lives in service of that ideal.”

Glasses were drained, and set on the tables with a bang.

Patton eyed the crowd and pointed a finger at the veterans of wars who had passed away earlier. Shaking with rage, he said, “I thought I told you guys to knock it off. You missed your parade, but you got a party like this when you arrived. I warned you of the consequences.”

Without a word being spoken, the old-timers moved to the supply closet and broke out buffers, floor wax, swabs, and rags to dust the room.

Patton smiled. “You new guys are on warning as well: don’t crash the party or you’ll be doing field day for a year until the next Memorial Day. Now, sit down, have a drink, and enjoy yourselves. When you’re done, report to Arch Angel Michael for your assignments. And, gentlemen, thank you for your service. You are magnificent.”