By Norris Burkes Apr 17, 2016
Last month, I went to Las Vegas to help my brother Milton after he’d lost his wife, Debbie. Making matters worse, his service dog, Buddy, ran off the next day.
Buddy is the beautiful border collie that has comforted my brother for the past 13 years. He’d left within hours of Debbie’s death, presumably in search of her. My brother was twice heartbroken.
Caring neighbors placed an ad in the paper and plastered the neighborhood with posters.
A week later, someone called to say they’d detained Buddy in a strip mall parking lot. However, the caller told us, Buddy escaped their grasp with a quick lunge. The caller encouraged us to come quickly in hopes we’d still find the dog.
My brother and I searched the parking lot and several adjacent apartment complexes. Then just as we were ready to give up, my brother heard something through his open passenger window.
“Stop,” he said, “I heard something.” Milton got out to search behind the apartment fence.
“I thought I heard his chain rattle,” he said.
I shrugged, not believing he could hear anything from a running car.
Nevertheless, I suggested he look over the adjacent fence.
He did. And there stood Buddy.
My brother called his dog into the car and the three of us rode off into the Vegas sunset, happier than any dog lover ought to be.
Back in Milton’s neighborhood, a half-dozen friends greeted us, rejoicing in Buddy’s homecoming.
Three volunteers washed Buddy with a water hose from my RV parked beside my brother’s mobile home. Buddy showed his appreciation with warm-tongued kisses on the faces of all who accepted.
The next day, Milton’s neighbor, Eva, offered to watch Buddy while Milton had a check up at the VA. Within minutes of arriving, a nurse referred my brother to the Emergency Room for his high blood pressure.
When I called Eva to tell her we’d be late, there was no answer. Three hours went by, more calls, no answer.
Finally Eva called to say Buddy had leapt a 5-foot wall, likely searching for Milton and Debbie.
There’s no way I can convey how hurt my brother was. He’d lost his wife and now he’d twice lost his only remaining companion.
My brother was admitted to the hospital. He’d been non-compliant for years with his life-saving medications and nearly paid the price for it. After a week in the hospital, his lab numbers were normal. My brother is physically cleaner and more clear-headed than he’s been in years.
On the day before my brother was discharged, my phone rang. I reached for the phone, intending to send the unrecognized call to voicemail, but instead, I accidentally answered it.
“Have you lost a dog?” the caller asked.
“Yes,” I say. “Yes.”
“Well,” the woman says, “My name’s Mackenzie and I’d like to return your dog.”
Mackenzie and I talked for 20 minutes. She offered to keep Buddy until Milton is able to care for Buddy. After I hung up, my brother and I couldn’t keep our celebration within the expected hospital noise levels.
You may be asking yourself why I write a lost-dog story for a spiritual column. Well, maybe because everyone loves a good dog story.
But mostly because I think God is heartbroken in much the same way my brother was when we fall away from his loving presence.
It’s “Amazing Grace” that causes us to sing, “I once was lost but now I’m found.” Fortunately, when we’re lost, God will always search for us. When we come back he rejoices. Then, when we wander off again, as we all do, God goes out and looks for us again.
This he’ll do time after time. Because unlike the pet owner, God always knows where we are.
– Write Norris at [email protected] or P.O. Box 247, Elk Grove, CA 95759. Twitter @chaplain, or call 843-608-9715.