Good-bye, Best Buddy

The quiet, ever-present Sheltie-shadow by my side has returned to God. The perpetually warm spot on the bedroom floor has grown cold; never to be chosen again as the optimal (and most-in-the-way) spot from which to supervise our comings and goings.

The emptiness of the floor next to the bed as I arose is only an echo of the space left behind in my heart as the story of Prince and Pepper closes its last chapter. For some time, I have been recognizing that Prince was a dog and a half, personality-wise, and Pepper was the half that made the two complete.

Pepper was always the perfect example of the Shetland Sheepdog reserved nature: He often didn’t care to be petted, instead leaning away after only a few gentle strokes (he did however have the itchiest butt of any Sheltie I’ve ever seen – loved to be scratched there). He was always reluctant to meet new people, instead preferring to hang back. When I came home every night, he’d greet me with a big Sheltie-smile and reserved enthusiasm; but instead of standing in front of me, he’d stand behind me, and only then could I pet him. He always let Prince do the leading – if Prince went up to someone wagging his tail, then Pepper would also come up wagging, but a moment later.

But at the same time, he exhibited that Shetland Sheepdog loyalty: Wherever I went, he’d soon follow. When I headed off to bed, he’d wake up from a nap in his favorite spot, and follow me off to bed. Sometimes I’d get up in the middle of the night, and he’d be in the middle of the floor, yet soon after I got back in bed, I’d hear his claws whispering across the floor as he came to lie at my side.

Sometimes I think of the goofy stuff they used to do together, and this photo comes to mind:

Hide-and-Snarl, Sheltie-style

Here, it is 19° and blowing 25 knots, and these two goofballs are outside playing one of their favorite games in the snow. And it’s not just snow, it’s close to blizzard conditions, between the wind and the cold! Those Sheltie double coats protected them well.

So they’d approach each other from either side of a big tree or a thick bush, grimace, frown, make mean faces, and then make snarling noises at each other. But instead of running at each other in a snarling fight, they instead run back the other way around the tree and when they crash into each other on the far side, they get into a growling, rough tussle.

Click to enlarge, and you’ll notice in the photo that there are no tracks between them, as they’re playing their hide-and-seek game.

Bittersweet memories; and now that book has closed.

Yet I know the story continues in a different book, for it’s God who’s writing the story, not me.

And as I was crying hot tears before his throne in prayer, he placed his hand upon my shoulder to remind me:

It is because they were so special that I gave them to you to care for.

The loss we feel is achingly deep, yet we know there is something more which God has in mind for us.

In deep sorrow, we look forward.

Run to God
My old friend,
for he is calling you:
and you hear him clearly now.
Hear him whistle and call,
and you recognize the Master who is calling.
Turn with familiarity and run to him.

Run with your old flashing speed and shining coat,
Run with your old sure, flying feet;
Run with your old grunting growl
because you always tried to run and bark at the same time;
Fly, my old friend;
Fly with new energy and surefootedness
Fly with your athlete’s speed that made everyone look on in smiling wonder;
that speed that made everyone stop and watch;
And run…
Run, Pepper!
Run, as you have not been able to do
in these last few years.
Run, and feel the soft meadows under your feet,
Enjoy the world rushing past again
at Sheltie-speed.

Run, barking, back to God;
Hear him calling to you now.
And there at his side
you will find your brother waiting
with the twinkle of a Sheltie wrestling-session in his eye.

Run, Pepper.

Run once again in breathtaking Sheltie-flight.

Run, and growl as you approach;
Collide at full speed with your brother, bowling him over;
the two of you finally growling, barking, and wrestling anew;
all shining coats, gleaming eyes, flashing teeth, and fearsome snarls;
and hear God laugh aloud with pleasure.

My ears will always look forward with poignancy
to again hearing you two barking;
and me turning
to see both of you abandoning your snooze in recognition of my voice
to spring to your feet – streaking toward me now
at top Sheltie-speed,
flashing big Sheltie-smiles,
your tails waving joyfully.

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