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From puppy love to heroism | Joan Bay Klope

The first time I saw her she looked like a bear cub to me. Tiny brown eyes. A thick black coat. Solidly built and sitting off to the side of her litter mates, soulfully taking in the play biting and wrestling.

“Yeah, she’s a purebred black lab. But since we’re friends, I’ll only charge you $100,” the owners offered.

I was thrilled and privately considered the future including our new pet. My husband would slide our dog kennel into the back of his truck and with a whistle she would hop in, ready for a hunting adventure. She’d patiently sit by his side, flush out birds, trot alongside him or gently hold game birds in her mouth, whatever the command. She would be comely, smart, loyal, eager for the hunt, and a dependable family pet.

I wrote the check and eagerly picked up this puppy with the sizable paws and floppy ears, who quickly nestled her nose into my neck as I walked her out to the car, then curled up in my son’s lap during the ride home. And while her purchase had been agreed upon, my husband would be returning home from a business trip that evening and be greeted by the puppy he’d been considering for weeks.

That was nine years ago. Today the little bear is so solid I couldn’t pick her up even if I wanted to and she does not need to hear, “Lilly!” to draw her near, for she has no desire whatsoever to venture far from home. As a matter of fact, napping on the porch just outside our French doors works well for her during a sunny day, but pushing her way between my legs or sitting directly on top of my feet where she can lean is even better if I’m standing beside her.

And hunting? Not on your life. Shotguns are loud and jolting and dead game birds fill a dog’s mouth with annoying feathers. She much prefers her role as the loyal family pet.

It’s a role that has made her a star. But we have awarded her another minor part as well: She’s the family jester and she earned the title the day those droopy ears suddenly gathered up and a sizable spot on her tongue turned black. When her tail began curling during a wag and a heavy undercoat formed the first time the weather cooled our $100 purebred lab became the chow mix that completely won our hearts and taught us that pure love is rarely refined.

In fact, it can be downright goofy. In our case, the beautiful heart in this dog is seen when she licks the air in delighted anticipation the moment she spots one of us and and runs in circles when we return home. She never seems to mind when all you have to give is a quick tummy rub with the bottom of your foot. And she so loves peace she refuses to bark, choosing instead to wag her tail wildly, even if you say nothing but merely look her way.

And so it was, one recent evening, that Lilly stepped beyond the best friend and jester roles to become a hero. It all started when I suddenly became aware of some unfamiliar barking. When I hurried outside to see who might be coming up our driveway I couldn’t believe what I was hearing: barking! And it seemed to be coming from the direction of our peace-loving Lilly.

It was, indeed, our Lilly. She could be seen barking in regular intervals and jumping against the dog run fence out back. Stopping what we were doing and grabbing flashlights, my husband and I hurried outside into the dark to discover our yellow lab, Lilly’s beloved canine companion, wedged neck first between the gate and the fence.

“Darn dog!” my husband hollered as we approached the disturbing scene. The lab’s slightly limp body was alarming and our fear increased with every step. “I’ll pull the gate out down here and you push his head back inside the dog run!”

There were a few tense moments and the nearby animals seemed to understand our concern. Lilly silently stood nearby; her tail still. The horse thundered our way only to abruptly stop behind us and watch in sustained curiosity. Bolstered by the crowd we pushed Jack out of danger, opened the gate, and checked him over thoroughly before he began jumping straight up into the air, just as he does when he greets us under normal circumstances.

Lilly vigorously wagged her tail.

It was that bark (the one we almost never hear) that prompted the rescue and speaks to me today as I ponder when it’s appropriate to make a loud noise. Are there times in my life when I simply speak way too much and those around me stop listening because they have heard it all before? Do I quiet myself regularly enough to tune in to God’s wisdom? When I have something to say, is it worth hearing?

Is there saving grace in my words or a painful bite to my bark?

Lord,

Fill my mouth with worthwhile stuff,

then nudge me when I’ve said enough.

Amen.

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