Because I didn’t have to chase after a pack of unruly dogs and reassert my dominance, as pathetic as it were, I had a chance to reflect on a very unexpected lesson I learned from one of the stray dogs in particular. The little bearer of lessons in wisdom was Fred, the mange-ridden, homely, gremlin-like black dog that wandered for months up and down our street.
Fred showed up sometime in the summer. I watched him chased away from several of the houses on my street, and as much as I hated to admit it, I could understand my neighbor’s reluctance to have old Fred hanging around. He was covered in mange, and barely had any hair left on his skinny frame. Instead of soft fur, he bore large open wounds that oozed blood and pus from different angry spots. Wherever this poor animal went, he was escorted unceremoniously by fat, demanding flies buzzing noisily around the sores. His large, soft brown eyes practically screamed for someone to have some mercy on him. Every evening we put food out for the stray dogs and cats that roam the poverty-stricken neighborhood, but Fred’s misery was well beyond an empty stomach. I had to do something about this suffering animal; I have no talent for turning a blind eye to this sort of thing.
Rebekkah and I are squeamish about pretty much anything a person could be squeamish about. We aren’t fond of blood, and pus just makes us puke. Plus, we know absolutely nothing about dog diseases, but we were pretty sure mange was contagious. Flies are the minions of satan himself, and just the sound of that belligerent buzzing grosses me right out. Having one actually land on me is beyond horrifying.
But all these things considered, Fred’s plight could not be ignored.
Buying industrial-strength rubber gloves, anti-bacterial and anti-fungal dog shampoo, and an arsenal of well-researched home remedies for mange, we scooped up the sick animal, put him in our bathtub, and began cleaning his wounds, treating the infections, and administering the mange-ridding home formula we hoped would work. We’d chosen the least expensive home remedy that seemed to have some consistently positive reviews on-line. Lastly, we shot up some prayers for Fred.
Once bathed, Fred looked and smelled considerably better, and we decided to go one step further and let him sleep in our garage at night. This was partly for his health, but part of it was that our careful, though obviously very painful, ministrations had earned us this dog’s undying love and loyalty, and he ceased to wander aimlessly day in and day out through the street. Instead, he took up residence in our yards, both back and front, joyfully greeting me as I pulled up from work, and guarding our porch from the suspicious postal workers that kept sniffing around day after day.
What transpired over the next few weeks can only be described as amazing. With only two treatments, that fur-handicapped, sickly little animal transformed into a rather adorable black dog with very expressive eyes. His hair grew back in soft and thick. He seemed to find a little of his dignity with each fresh patch of fur. We watched his sad, haunted eyes take on another expression…. love.
During the time he was practically dying in front of our eyes, and straight through our efforts to nurse him back to health, Fred had no name. We called him the black dog, or the little sick guy, but we failed to bestow an actual identity on him. I’m sure there are all sorts of Freudian reasons, but looking back, I imagine it was a way to protect ourselves from getting too attached to this disaster-area of a little life. When I finally decided he needed a name, the least amount of time and effort was spent on it. We pulled Fred from the air… a homely name for a homely dog. He loved it, and seemed to answer to it within minutes.
When the snow hit, Fred’s garage was noticeably uncomfortable. The other dogs lived like queens, enjoying heat, beds to sleep in, and a crowd of friends always ready to play with each other. I was once again, shamed a little by the obvious difference in the way I treated the “beautiful” dogs, including Sheba who was also a stray, but had long ago been allowed to join the inside dogs, and the “ugly” dog. My conscience was merciless about Fred, and with the snow came the end of Fred’s separate-but-equal status at my home. He was furnished with a collar of his own, and he joined the indoor dogs as an equal member of the family.
In the couple of months Fred lived with me, he taught me about being grateful. He showed me how very little it costs to bring a little hope into someone else’s war-torn life, and how so many of God’s creations need to be loved like they need water and food. Fred’s big, open eyes reminded me daily how much he completely trusted me with his life. While thoughts of shallow motivations plagued me concerning Fred, they never occurred to him at all. I find myself humbled by Fred’s pure heart.
I found a home for Fred, but of the three families that took dogs, I’m not as convinced about Fred’s adopted owners. They weren’t unkind or creepy in any way. They just weren’t very vocal at all. I hope God will bless Fred on his new journey. He deserves all the happiness in the world.
Please say a little prayer for Fred…