Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Ministry of Sheila

Lessons Lived

We had to put her to rest last week. Medication had severely damaged her kidneys. She had not eaten for two weeks, hadn't held any food down for nearly three. I held her head in my hand, gently caressing her, as it quietly dropped into permanent peace.

The beginning of her life was filled with abuse and neglect. We never knew her actual age, the shelter which saved her estimated between five and nine. At the very least she'd spent five years in the company of people who either didn't care....or worse. This was a soul that had every reason to be wary - even vengeful - of humans. And she wasn't anything of the sort.

The day we visited the shelter, she was in the first kennel to our right. We were there to visit a couple of other dogs - she seemed too old. Yet she quickly came to the front of her run, seemingly smiling to see us. My wife bent down to give her a quick pet through the chainlink to say "Hi". We moved on to the other pens, one other border collie we wanted to see was horribly aloof and hyperactive at the same time. Probably not a good choice for us. The rhodesian ridgeback, was courteous enough, but seemed disinterested in us the second we left. And as we moved about, there was Sheila, still at the front of her pen, still watching us with a glint of hope in her eyes and that seeming smile still there.

So we went back to her. The note on her pen door indicated she might be younger than what the website had listed. That gave us a little more thought about her. But it was those eyes, that smile, that melted away any concerns about her age. We took her to the back area for a little play. She would run between us - though she had a bit of a labored gait to her. She responded to our calls, she was eager to engage us both. And so it was that we finally realized that it was she who was adopting us, not we who were adopting her.

She was painfully shy that first day at home. She wouldn't enter a new room unless I entered first and called her in as if to give her permission. Just what was her life like before? Most dogs are eager to scour and sniff every corner of every room in a new surrounding. Sheila acted as if ultimate doom would ensue by just being in the house, let alone exploring it. Then it was another hour before she would venture to the main floor of our split level home. Was upstairs even more of a taboo?

Baths were a challenge. She was so spooked of the bathroom that she wouldn't even enter the room. She could get within a whisker of touching the lineoleum or tile without actually making contact. We had to chase her around the house, pick her up and plop her into the tub just for a bath. But with care she learned to love baths, she would come running as soon as I would start the water in the tub. A rather remarkable change, based in her faith in us to do her no harm.

And that is the point of this entry, Sheila's faith...her ministry. The first time my wife laid down on the floor with her and gently petted her, Sheila would ever so delicately touch her paw onto my wife's nose to encourage more caresses. A dog has claws that can tear flesh, yet she was so careful as to not cause a scratch let alone a gash. Why didn't she feel anger toward humans? Why didn't she feel fear from humans? I'd like to think that she had innately the soul we all profess to have as Christians. She was at ease, willing to engage, even embrace her tormentors, she was indeed a messenger of Peace. She lived by example, if only we could all do the same.

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