Monday, March 17, 2008

A Sixteen Year Old Gift From Visiting Teaching

By Christine Thackeray

My new book is a fictionalized story about visiting teaching, but about sixteen years ago I really went visiting teaching and came away with a treasure that changed my life. The woman I was assigned to visit rarely came to church and hesitated making appointments but she had a little farm and a son the same age as my young boys. This one Saturday I brought my kids over and while they sat on the backs of two geldings, kicking their heels against the sides of two fat unbrushed horses far more interested in eating than walking forward, we sat talking about life. The conversation turned slightly when Renee sighed and said to me, "I have to drown a puppy today."

I looked at her horrified, "Why?"

"The sheltie got in with Pearl while she was in heat and we got one mutt. If I keep her, I can't sell the rest of the litter as purebred," she answered matter-of-factly.

"I'll take her." I begged, with a new baby the thought of taking a life was more than I could handle.

Renee shook her head, "You don't want this worthless creature. You'd have to feed it every few hours and it's just a mutt." But despite Renee's protests I went home that day with a little bundle of fur.

From the first day we took her home, Tinker loved being cuddled. Anna was my toddler at the time and I don't think she let that dog touch the ground the whole first year. It wasn't uncommon to find the puppy dressed in baby clothes and buckled in the stroller or stuck in a cardboard box that had been outfitted with windows and doll furniture. But when I'd check on her, Tinker would be panting away with a huge grin on her face, tail wagging, just loving the attention.

A few years later we went on vacation. We lived in a rural area and decided to just leave a large supply of food and water in the garage and the door open. It was only for three days. After making sure Tinker was outside, we pulled away. When we got home, Tinker was no where. We called around and then opened the door to the house. One of the children had run into the house at the last minute and the dog had followed her and been stuck inside for the last three days. I was terrified at the mess I was sure to find but she hadn't had an accident anywhere. My love for her increased. In all the years we had her, Tinker has never peed on the carpet- ever.

One summer night a tornado whipped through our neighborhood. At the time we had a barn and we assumed the dog would take shelter there. The next morning the backyard looked like an explosion had hit it. The swingset had been ripped out of the ground and was upside down on the other end of the yard. Tree branches littered the entire acre and the trampoline was upside down about 50 feet from where it had been the night before. Suddenly we heard it, Tinker was crying, frantically. We ran outside and started throwing aside tree branches but couldn't find her. Finally, my husband got one of my sons to help him move the trampoline. It had landed on her. She was the bump in the middle. Tinker was unhurt but from then on, thunderstorms were her great fear. If the weather changed, she had to be in the room with you during the entire storm or she went crazy. If it was a really bad one, she had to be in your lap.

But she was a wonderful dog. She didn't bark too much, was as patient as Job with toddlers and only bit one person her whole life- a contractor who stole thousands of dollars from us and tried to come to our house when I wasn't there. Actually, that just made me like her more (I wish I could have bitten him.)

Well, last week after sixteen years of love, companionship and loyalty Tinker died of liver failure. It was fast but we knew she wasn't feeling well for quite a while. They say "all dogs go to heaven." I believe that Tinker is there waiting for us. When it is my turn to go to the other side of the veil and all my family is there with open arms to greet me, there will be a wagging tail there too. e'll miss her.

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