During my career in law enforcement, one of my dreams was getting into the K-9 unit. Unfortunately, that dream never materialized and though I could not have a K-9 partner at work, I took comfort in my dogs at home. As I’m sure some K-9 handlers have discovered, though they appreciate and love all of their furry partners, sometimes they are blessed with a particularly special dog. For me, that special dog is Shaela.
It is hard to believe that a month or two short of 15 years ago, I walked into the local animal shelter to rescue a dog no one else wanted. It was a bright, clean facility with caring attendants, even though it was not a no- kill shelter. It was noisy, chaotic and the dogs seemed to look for hope in all the faces that passed them by or cowered in fear showing the effects of abuse. There were so many there, from tiny little lap dogs, huge aggressive dogs to dogs so ugly they were cute. How to choose?
As I walked through the kennels, one had a few gawky puppies in that awkward stage between the irresistible, fuzzy cuteness of babies and the adult they would grow up to be. The attendant expressed concern that these puppies had grown past the age to quickly find a home before the fate that awaited so many dogs there, much like many lost people I have seen during my years on patrol.
Needless to say, I was drawn into that particular kennel and sat amongst the puppies that were described as mixed breed with a possible heritage of Sheltie and Border collie. They were all awkwardly cute, some rambunctious, some shy and most were more concerned about playing with each other than interacting with me.
All, except one. Almost from the moment I stepped into the kennel, she watched me. When I sat down, the puppies all piled on like they were playing “king of the mountain”, she was the only one watching my face trying to catch my attention and provided the first of many lessons she taught me over the years.
We both made our choice and she came home with me. A few days later, I received a call from the shelter advising that all but one of her siblings had contracted parvo and died. They asked if she had any symptoms and offered to allow me to return her in exchange for another dog. Needless to say, I declined and they were so heartbroken over the loss of her siblings they asked that if I were in the area they hoped that I would drop by so they could visit with her.
One morning I had a bit of free time and as part of socializing her, I decided to drop by the animal shelter for a visit. She was happy and excited to be together on the trip, until we pulled into the parking lot. She began shivering and the whites of her eyes showed. When I picked her up to go inside, she wrapped her front legs around my arm, pushed her face into my chest and clung to me as though I were dangling her over a cliff.
The animal shelter crew was happy to see how well she was doing and made a big fuss over her, but it was not until we were going back to the car that she relaxed and took a shuddering breath as if she realized I wasn’t leaving her there. I will never forget that moment, especially when she wagged her tail as we got into the car. Her simple understanding of and gratitude for her salvation pierced my lack of understanding and gratitude better than the most eloquent sermons ever could have, though sermons are an important part of learning.
Through the visits to the vet, some of which required an overnight stay, she would obediently sit, stay and allow strangers to do what was necessary, even when it hurt and she didn’t understand. Her trust in me and confidence that I wouldn’t abandon her, as well as her joy when I came to get her provided a model for my growth over the years, planting seeds along the way that sprouted when they were most needed as I was facing the after effects of transitioning from deputy to private citizen and the effects of a chronic illness depleting my physical capabilities.
As she grew from her late puppyhood into an adult dog, even in her playful dogginess, she watched and studied my facial expressions to guide her in her activities. While many dogs will be obedient while their owner is present, once gently corrected, she would avoid things that I had corrected her for even when she didn’t think I was around. She would only chew things I gave her to chew and as long as she could be close to places I normally sat or slept, was content to follow my wishes to stay off the furniture. Her humble obedience in almost every area reminded me of my failures and pushed me to strive to do better as a human being.
A few years went by and another teachable moment arose out of a trip with a friend. We travelled together with our dogs to attend an event that we were looking forward to. We planned to take turns gassing up and walking the dogs to ensure that they were always safe and that the car was always attended by one of us to ensure nothing was stolen. On the first stop, I was to be the one who went first to the restroom after putting gas in the car, my friend would walk the dogs in view of the car to ensure nothing was taken.
When I returned, my friend told me that she couldn’t get my dog to come out of the van with her dog. She even tried tugging on the leash and offering treats to no effect. When I got to her, she wagged nervously, not sure she did what I wanted and jumped out with apparent relief when I called her. After that, I walked her first as she showed me the lesson of the importance of waiting for God’s guidance and resisting being drawn away from devotion, faithfulness and commitment to the One giving salvation.
Over the last few months, I have observed indications that our journey together in this life is drawing to a close. She is growing tired and though her enthusiasm for play and joy for life has waned, her devotion to me has not. Though she struggles to hide her ever increasing physical deterioration, the spiritual lessons she brings keep coming. I am coming face to face with the knowledge that however intelligent and loving a human can be, from launching a rocket to the moon to feeding a homeless child, our efforts and understanding are imperfect.
I am facing the process of making decisions that every dog lover dreads, as well as facing my imperfect ability to comfort her, relieve her discomfort that will turn into pain or give her continuing life. For many people, this is a source of much anger, bitterness and cynicism. Yet for me, the gift she gave me of freely choosing me over all others, commitment, devotion and obedience to me, as well as her faith in me brings hope for things unseen to a finite mind given a promise of life from the Creator of all things.
The Bible speaks of seeing God’s glory through creation. Through an innocent creature, my dog, Shaela, I have witnessed the teachings that God gave the world through Christ. Her life and perhaps her life’s purpose of bringing a stiff-necked human closer to Him have been fulfilled. Humans are notorious for getting into semantic and doctrinal squabbles on all sorts of subjects so that oftentimes important things get lost in the squabbling. Loyalty, devotion, obedience, and faithfulness to the One giving salvation and selfless love regardless of our imperfections are those important things.
Given the teaching that God’s thoughts and mind are nothing like ours, along with the promise of treasures in Heaven for the faithful, I pray in these final days with Shaela, that the term treasure includes the return of such a wonderful gift received during earthly life, that of the devoted companionship of a beloved dog. She, my Shaela, has certainly been a treasure here on earth.
I write this in tribute for Shaela, as well as all K-9’s, service and companion animals that serve with such loving devotion and provide living examples of the qualities we would be well served to strive for in the fulfillment of our duties.
Juli Adcock began her career in law enforcement with the Escambia County Florida Sheriff’s Office as a patrol deputy until she was injured in a riot situation. She transferred to Judicial Security and retired in 1998. Juli pursued career advancement training with an emphasis on officer survival, interviews and interrogation. She worked with a local Rape Crisis Center and in victim’s advocacy, complementing her college course work in psychology. She currently resides in New Mexico and is an instructor with The Appleseed Project (www.appleseedinfo.org). The Appleseed Project is a rifle marksmanship clinic teaching the fundamentals of firing an accurate round downrange every 3 to 4 seconds, out to 500 yards, as well as American history. She has trained military personnel at White Sands Missile Range who are certifying as Squad Designated Marksmen. Juli instructs basic handgun skills to new gun owners in preparation for responsible personal gun ownership. She also writes for The Badge Guys (www.thebadgeguys.com). She can be reached at [email protected] or through Law Enforcement Today