I know that there are many things going on in this world that are more tragic than the plethora of animals who are currently sitting in an animal shelter, but this Saturday I will get to be a part of a great fundraiser. So I’m republishing my favorite (and a lot of you love this story too) story about a dog who was dumped off in the country and how she adopted our family. I hope it inspires you.
The Gift of Mama Dog by Fran Roberts
My daughter Danielle finally gave up praying for a horse and decided to pray for a German Shepherd that year, but my husband said that our one dog, Kayla, was enough. Our family held our customary Gulf Coast “Day After Christmas Cookout” and that’s when Mama Dog started to live under our front porch. I may have been partially responsible. Nobody was using the chicken skins or eating the piece of meat that fell into the coals, so I thought that she may as well have them.
We live in the country and people often dump their animals off nearby, but she was not only skinny, she looked ancient. Our dog Kayla seemed to like her well enough, and there was a sadness about her that made me want to help her. She was an old, black German Shepherd with a scratched up nose, gray whiskers on her snout, the biggest ears I had ever seen on a dog, and several healed wounds on her body. Two of them looked like bullet scars.
“Is that old mama dog still under the house?” my husband would ask, and I would nod, hoping that he would change his mind when he saw what a good girl she was. I noticed that he spent time with her in the mornings before work, and he slipped her food as often as I did. I watched to see if she was truly the gentle soul that she seemed to be. I never even saw her flinch or snap at anybody.
“It’s okay, Mama Dog. That noise won’t hurt you. I wish you could tell me your story, Old Girl,” I would tell her when the neighborhood kids popped fireworks, and she cowered under the house.
She would just look at me with her chestnut brown eyes as if she wanted to help me out, but didn’t quite know how.
Mama Dog didn’t look like she would last very long, and during a cold snap a few weeks after Christmas my husband finally agreed that she could come inside. We all knew that she was officially a Roberts that day.
As much as Danielle loved her, Mama Dog slept at the foot of my bed near the door each night. She laid down at my feet when the floor was cold and kept my toes warm. She was my protector and as she gained strength, she became Kayla’s favorite playmate. Time went by and her nose became wet, her coat became long and shiny, and she often seemed like a much younger dog. She wasn’t very fond of men, but she stayed awfully close to my husband each time he fired up the grill. It was as if she knew what had brought her to us.
Danielle introduced her to friends as “the dog I prayed for” and loved to have long conversations and to go exploring in the woods behind our house with her. As big as the dog was, I guess that was as close as Danielle was ever going to come to having a horse, too. The only time Mama Dog quaked with fear was during a thunderstorm or when there were fireworks going off. At those times, she would press her side against me as if she knew I wouldn’t let the noise get her. I would pet her until the shaking stopped, and the girls soon learned to come running when there was a storm. They wanted to help, too.
Danielle had been a late talker, and I loved to sit on the front porch and listen to her chatter away, telling the dog all of her secrets. I never had to worry about snakes with Mama Dog crashing through the woods with my girls. Her bark echoed through the neighborhood, essentially a free home security system, each time a stranger walked past our home.
Two Christmases later, Mama Dog got sick. She just seemed to give up. She rarely ate, and I had to put the water bowl right next to her so she would drink. I purposely made chicken several times a week so she would eat something. Just when she seemed to get stronger and started play with Kayla again, she suddenly just shut down.
“Don’t go, Mama Dog,” I said one day in January. “I know you had a hard life, but we love you. Stay with us.”
On January 17th, I called in sick to work. Something told me that it would be Mama Dog’s last day with us, and I let the girls stay home from school, too. I slid her onto a sleeping bag near her usual spot at the foot of my bed, and put peanut butter on her nose so she’d at least eat something. I dribbled water into her mouth, but she drank very little. I watched her carefully as I puttered around in the kitchen, hoping I was wrong. My girls sat and petted her for a long time, urging her to get up and play. About lunch time, I saw Mama Dog look at me, cock her head, and then she died. If I hadn’t felt the whoosh of air fly past me and out the dog door, I never would have believed it. Mama Dog was a gentle soul, and I got to be with her as she left us, body and spirit.