Ninety-seven hours. That’s how long it’s been since Watson, my 15-year old miniature schnauzer, walked away from home before dawn Wednesday morning.
It has been a time of great compassion from co-workers, neighbors, friends, family and strangers. They have driven the neighborhood, knocked on doors, walked miles in the woods, inserted flyers into mailboxes, and posted his picture on Facebook.
Wednesday afternoon we hired a tracking dog and his handler from Tri-County Trackers to try to find Watson. R.V., the handler, is a retired police officer. Dodger is one of his four Doberman tracking dogs. After they arrived and asked what had happened, R.V. said, not knowing my faith, “I always pray before a track.” He got a laminated card out of his wallet and read it, as Gerard and I stood near:
“Lord God, maker of all living creatures, you called forth fish in the sea, birds in the air, and animals on the land. We humbly beseech you to bless this track and by the power of your love, enable us to accept your plan. Amen.”
With Watson’s scent from his dog bed, Dodger, followed by R.V and Gerard, ran for over an hour through neighbors’ yards and woods following his trail.
Dodger tracked to a set of schnauzer-sized paw prints near the edge of the lake a few hundred yards from home.
But no Watson.
But Watson’s trail that Dodger marked made good sense to us—familiar areas he’s loved for the dozen years we’ve lived in this neighborhood. And even though there was no Watson, for some reason I felt better.
We’ve known Watson has had cancer since earlier this year. He has been deaf for years. He was taking four different pills a day but was still joining in on long walks to Bur-Mill and running the length of the house to the kitchen when he wanted a dog biscuit. But I knew he felt poorly at times—he had trouble going up and down steps, and some mornings he just didn’t want to get up or eat.
I knew my heart would break when his time came. I wondered if I’d have to make the decision to put him down when the joy in his life was gone or if I’d find him gone one day when I came home from work or if I’d wake one morning and he’d be there, in his bed beside me, but still.
I have heard so many stories this week of people whose elderly pets disappeared to go off and die. In my heart I believe that is the case here. But why would they do that? Why leave those who love them the most when they need comfort, food, water, and compassion?
A friend sought the answer and read that it’s a left-over instinct from when dogs traveled in packs. When a dog senses that his time is near, he knows if he stays with the pack, he will make the others vulnerable to predators. In order to protect his family, he leaves. He leaves to die alone away from the comfort, provision and protection he has enjoyed for his lifetime. He leaves for the sake of the others.
“No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for his friends.”
Watson may have done it for me–to protect me from the pain of his final illness, to remove from me the need to care for him during a difficult time, to save me from the decisions of his last days.
Jesus did it for all of us. But young. Healthy. Sinless.
He laid his life down for each of us so that we too may live.
“No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for his friends.” John 15:13