A Dog Named Fred
By MIKE PATRICK
One afternoon while I worked in the backyard, my wife, Nancy, went for a neighborhood walk to get in some exercise. About a quarter mile from the house, she heard a dog make a noise with a raspy bark. At first, she couldn’t tell from where the bark came. Then she realized it emanated from a storm drain not far from where she stood. The dog paced in a few inches of standing water below ground. Unable to reach the dog, she summoned help from the supervisor of a roofing crew working at a house down the street. The man laid on his stomach and eventually retrieved an old Jack Russell terrier.
They walked the quarter mile back to our house and I heard them approach as the dog continued to bark. Cold, wet, and traumatized, he could not quit trembling. The roofing supervisor, sensing the dog had cataracts, called the phone number on the tag hanging from its neck and a man answered, acknowledged the dog belonged to him and someone would soon pick him up. I gave Nancy an expression like “what did you get into with this dog.”
We took the dog into the backyard and my wife, with tenderness and compassion, laid on the grass with a dry towel attempting to comfort the dog as he lay there whimpering and occasionally barking. Ten or fifteen minutes passed when a woman arrived to retrieve the dog. She couldn’t imagine how Fred (the dog’s name) got out of their backyard. She said her blind, deaf dog never barked. After expressions of gratitude, she left with the dog.
In previous days, I had reflected on personal development issues and how we tend to respond in unconscious, mechanical ways in everyday life—not even realizing how we experience or respond to many of life’s situations. If we want to change, we must become aware of what needs to change or there will be little progress. We must develop some self-awareness of how we respond at any given moment. Popular author and speaker, Fr. Richard Rohr, says that true freedom comes when we reach the point in our lives that we willingly can say “yes” before we say “no.” I realized that I had quickly relayed “no” when my wife brought Fred home in her arms. Being quick to say “no” reveals a judgmental attitude. And we know what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount: “Do not judge, or you too will be judged” (Matt. 7:1).
The next day, Nancy and I went for a walk and she showed me the storm drain where she found Fred. Choosing vulnerability, I told her of my self-awareness about how I had responded to her bringing the dog home and I wasn’t proud of it. She immediately voiced her agreement with more enthusiasm than I expected. I had hoped for some compassion, like the dog received. But I was not traumatized, simply ashamed.
Late that second day, we received a phone call from the owner. She related that on the day Nancy rescued the dog, eighteen-year-old, blind, deaf Fred died a few hours later in his bed at home. We grieved his death, we grieved the owner’s loss, and I licked my wounds. My wife was the saint, much like Saint Francis who loved the animals.
Mike Patrick is retired as Chaplain and Ministry Education Coordinator at Hendrick Medical Center