“Whatever you do, don’t get a golden retriever,” my mom said. “They shed too much.”
For once, my preternaturally insightful mom was wrong. Not about the shedding. Sushi, the happy-go-lucky, 2-year-old golden retriever we adopted from a breeder shed like a kennel full of dogs. On Nair. What she was wrong about was the not getting her.
We brought Sushi home 11 years ago as a surprise for our children, one year after adopting our daughter, Ruth, who was then 3. Because Ruth had cerebral palsy and was deaf, we’d looked into getting a therapy dog. But the cost – around $20,000 – was too high. So we looked for a dog that would make a good companion instead.
Professionally trained with an AKC obedience title and a first-place ribbon in a regional puppy show, Sushi was a beauty, with sweeping, gold feathers and soulful brown eyes. She was fast, racing through the woods behind our house like a hairy rocket. And she was gentle, letting our four young children dress her in butterfly wings and princess hats. But mostly, she was an answer to prayer.
You see, when we’d first talked about adopting Ruth, who we were hosting from a Ugandan orphanage while she was in Maine for physical therapy, we didn’t have money for that either. But our 4-year-old son, Gabriel, brought us a mayonnaise jar of money that he and his older brother had been saving to buy a dog.
“You want to use your money to adopt Ruth?” I asked.
The boys nodded.
With less than $5, that jar of coins kicked off our adoption fund.
After Ruth settled in our family, I hoped to reward our children by giving them a dog. But a year of calling animal shelters and browsing through photos of adoptable dogs on the Internet hadn’t turned up any that were suitable for a busy young family. So I bowed my head and asked God to provide just the right dog. Within days, I came across a newspaper ad for a breeder, seeking a family for Sushi. One week later, we brought her home.
Does God really care about dogs? Sushi was proof. Nineteen months ago, when we moved from a tiny patch of land in the city to four acres in the country, I sent up another prayer, asking God to give Sushi, who had slowed with age, two summers to loll in the grass and enjoy the sunshine. As this, her second summer, came to a close, Sushi slept away most days under the front steps, where she could keep an eye on the kids.
But one night this week, Sushi didn’t come inside. She didn’t seem to be in pain, but she wasn’t moving or eating either. We checked on her through the night, and at 2 a.m. I brought a blanket outside and lay beside her, staring up at the stars and thinking of Ruth, who had died unexpectedly six years before. The next morning, when Sushi still hadn’t moved, I knew it was time to call a vet – barely able to speak. Before my husband and oldest son carried Sushi to her final appointment, I lay with her on the grass, rubbing her ears and nose. “You are a good dog,” I told her. “Good and faithful.”
And I prayed that God, who is also good and faithful, would find a place for her in his heaven so that she could be with Ruth and my mom, who had also passed away. Some sorrows never go away. They resurrect themselves with each new loss. But in spite of the pain, I also have hope, knowing that if God loved us enough to send our family just the right dog, then surely he has a plan.
Meadow Rue Merrill is the author of the recently released memoir, Redeeming Ruth: Everything Life Takes, Love Restores (Hendrickson Publishers, 2017). Part travel adventure, part family drama, part spiritual memoir, it reveals how God wants to bless hurting and broken people through us, even though we too are hurt and broken. A former newspaper reporter and mom of six, Meadow writes for children and adults from a little house in the big woods of midcoast Maine.