It was Christmas Eve and we were returning home from church. My daughter had chosen to drive by herself, something she was doing more as distance inexplicably grew between us. We weren’t far behind her when she called. “Mom, I found a dog…”
She had seen it earlier about a mile from our home adeptly dodging police officers and then on her way back home again in the same location. Pulling over and opening her car door she called out and the previously elusive creature jumped in without hesitation. They were waiting for us.
I sighed. It looked like we were going to have an unexpected guest for Christmas.
With no collar, dirty and thin enough to assume she had been on the run for a while, the dog wasn’t exactly attractive. Her fur was short and wiry and so sparse on her stomach there was almost none there. Only her ears were soft enough to be stroked easily. However, it was her eyes that captured me; liquid brown, calm and strangely familiar.
Following me around the house just moments after being brought inside, she walked right by my side as though on a leash. I’d never seen anything like it. Even going up and down stairs she made a point to exactly match my pace and only took a step when I did. Extremely quiet, she made soft chuckling sounds in response to being picked up or given food. Perfectly housebroken, if she needed to go out she sat quietly by the door until someone opened it.
What kind of dog was this?
Turning to look at me as I gave her a bath, she was completely calm and showed absolutely no signs of fear or distrust. But I was too annoyed by the extra trouble she had caused to give it much thought. There were many still-to-be-wrapped gifts and it was going to be a late night. I would have to address the situation later.
It wasn’t that I didn’t like dogs. In fact, the year I turned nine all I wanted for Christmas was a dog. But it couldn’t be just any dog, it had to be one exactly like Lassie; devoted, obedient, smart and of course, beautiful.
Since I had already figured out the Santa thing, I decided it made more sense to go straight to God with my request and then promptly informed my parents my dream dog would be arriving by December 25th.
Sure enough, there was a dog waiting for me under the tree that year. Beautiful and soft, with a long fluffy tail, it even looked a lot like Lassie. But it was stuffed. My mother’s apology that it wasn’t a real dog was so sincere I felt bad and assured her I really loved it (which I did) and reminded her my request wasn’t directed toward her anyhow. I was positive God would still come through and I was fine with waiting.
Amused by my faith, every time a new dog joined our family my mom always let me know she hoped it would be the one. And while some of them were quite pretty, they were rarely well behaved and spent their days in the back yard, treated with occasional steak dinner scraps and taken out regularly to go jogging with my Dad.
Not exactly a bad life for a dog, but far from my dream.
I shared my childhood-dog-conversation-with-God with my new husband and he sweetly surprised me just a few weeks after our wedding, with a puppy. An adorable white ball of long, silky fur with coal black eyes, we couldn’t have chosen a prettier dog, or one that was more high maintenance.
She required frequent grooming, was prone to carsickness, wasn’t quick to housebreak, good on a leash or obedient beyond a random “sit” or “shake” and she never missed a chance to run off. But she was great with kids and I loved her to pieces.
More beloved dogs followed her, each keeping with our when-will-we-ever-learn-not-to-get-a-high-maintenance-dog theme. But none of them had an ounce of Lassie in them.
As soon as the holidays passed, I began my search for our guest’s owner. There were no neighborhood reports of a lost dog and no response to the Found Dog Report we made at the Humane Society. Not micro-chipped and clearly no puppy; ordinary, mixed breed adult strays were so common I knew adoption there was unlikely and I wasn’t willing to take that chance.
I had recently learned of a local vet whose office was a shelter in itself with dozens of dogs and cats running freely, all available for adoption. Since the dog needed to be checked out, I made an appointment. Maybe they would know of someone looking for a great pet to take her off our hands.
But what should have been a routine exam quickly took a bad turn when lab tests revealed an advanced heartworm infection. The treatment was expensive and there was no guarantee of survival.
Still wondering if it was possible someone else might be willing to care for her, I glanced at the vet who seemed to read my mind. “I just can’t take another dog right now, especially one in this condition. I’m sorry. You’ll have to decide what you want to do.”
In an instant, all the days since Christmas Eve flashed though my head. Already bonded to me for some reason, she had not left my side. There really was only one decision.
I headed home on a mission to save her. It wasn’t difficult to enlist the rest of my pet-loving family and the kids jumped in with their input on the first priority for her—a name. Since she resembled the funny looking, big-eared, bat in the movie, Fern Gully, she was christened, “Koda.”
The prescribed treatment wasn’t complicated; just a two-shot series. But caring for her afterward wasn’t simple at all. For several months, all her activity had to be completely restricted. That meant minimal walking; never up or down stairs and absolutely no jumping in order to prevent pieces of the dying parasites from entering her lungs where they could be fatal.
Strangely, Koda seemed to understand and was amazingly cooperative. She was content to lie quietly on a blanket in a box I found for her and she slept in her kennel whenever I left the house. Following the vet’s instructions, I carried her up and down stairs, outside, inside and out again. She was not allowed to jump. But when we were nearing the end of her prescribed confinement, a terrifying setback was a grim reminder of the seriousness of her illness.
Getting ready for bed one night, I heard sounds in Koda’s kennel and found her hemorrhaging, seizing and unresponsive. We rushed to an Emergency Vet who diagnosed her symptoms as an adverse side effect of the treatment. He said it was a particularly bad sign and couldn’t promise she would recover. We returned home with more medication, instructions to restrict her activity several weeks longer and hoped for the best.
By this time, I was exhausted from her constant care and losing hope we would be able to save her. I couldn’t help thinking how ironic it was to find such a great dog, only to lose her again. Amazingly, she finally recovered and I was ecstatic to get a clean bill of health for her.
Settling seamlessly into our family, when I was away Koda patiently waited by the door until I returned and then took her place again by my side. She seemed to think it was her job to watch over me and should I step into a room without her, she would frantically search until she found me again. I couldn’t even shower alone unless I was willing to listen to her constant whining at the bathroom door.
My daughter joked she deserved all the credit for bringing Koda home in the first place and my husband teased me about finally finding the ugly version of the dog of my dreams.
But I laughed them both off. Koda was surely a great dog, but certainly not my Lassie. She was simply too plain; too ordinary. She was nothing like I had imagined. And anyhow, I had given up on the idea and long ago filed that dream away with the rest of my childhood fantasies.
As the following months passed, my bond with Koda quickly grew stronger while at the same time I was steadily losing touch with my daughter. Then, without any warning, the bottom completely dropped out of my life as I knew it. The sudden revelation I had a child lost in the world of drug addiction couldn’t possibly have hit me harder and immediately placed me back on a quest to save someone I loved.
But nothing could have prepared me for the anguish or helplessness this new quest would bring.
As long months fighting for my daughter’s life became years, I often found myself feeling desperate and overwhelmed. I became obsessed with searching for answers in hopes of somehow finding a magic solution to the nightmare we faced. I was plagued by self-blame and questions of “Why?” and “What if?”
Terrified at any moment I would receive the call that she was gone forever, I began praying for a sign that things would eventually be ok again. Even a small whisper of hope would have been enough.
As desperate days stretched into years, there was never a time when I couldn’t simply reach down and stroke the silky ears of my constant, if often taken for granted, companion.
Then one day I began to think about how Koda had simply shown up out of nowhere; and had somehow chosen me to love unconditionally. I thought about how sick she had been, how hard I had fought to save her and how she had finally recovered; seemingly against all odds.
Was she the promise of hope I needed so badly?
Then, looking at her more closely, I suddenly realized why her eyes had seemed so familiar to me.
They were the eyes of the dog in my dreams.
In that moment I knew, if the innocent prayers of a long-ago child could be answered then certainly a mother’s desperate prayers for a lost daughter would also. And slowly, one-step, one day and finally one year at a time, my precious daughter returned — healthy and whole.
Through it all, Koda stood by me. It was uncanny that she had arrived just before I really needed her and saw me all the way through the storm. By then her body was failing but she stubbornly hung on. I could see it was time for her to go and it broke my heart. I wondered if she was waiting for me to reassure her I would be ok before she felt she could leave my side. But I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t imagine life without her. And when she finally did go, I still wasn’t ready.
I will never stop missing the quiet, devoted, unassuming furry angel who was my Christmas Eve miracle. She left me with two gifts I will cherish forever; the hope I so desperately needed and the realization of a heavenly love I am still only just beginning to understand.
Lover of reading, writing, sparkly things and whatever purrs, barks or flies. Former helicopter mom, co-dependent and enabler, I am addicted to walking, my family and my iWatch. Teacher by day and writer by night, I am clearly the one learning the most. Keeping it up until I get it right. Choosing joy one day at a time and sharing my journey so others can see why it might not be found if we don’t look for it. Thanks for stopping by!