O.Henry Ending

Life and Afterlife

All dogs go to heaven — after creating paradise on Earth

 

By Jeff Paschal

She was just a puppy, maybe 6 months old, when we got her. Walking down a hallway at an Ohio Humane Society kennel, my wife, Beth, had noticed this big, beautiful brown-and-white dog, hopping around, tail wagging, begging to be petted. “Zoe’s going to be a big girl,” a handmade sign said, guessing she might be a Labrador Retriever and Saint Bernard mix.)

“We’ll take her,” we said. We opened the backdoor to our SUV, and Zoe launched herself in with no effort, as if she’d been doing this all her life.

No sooner had we cranked the engine than we began to hear a sound that would become familiar — Zoe whining and trying to “talk”— all the way home. But it didn’t take long for her to adjust to her new home with its large, fenceless backyard. We had a harder time adjusting to taking our new charge on the leash in sun, rain and, Ohio being Ohio, snow — lots of snow — while waiting for Zoe to complete her bathroom mission.

So we bought one of those electronic underground “invisible” fences, and by coincidence, the woman sent to train Zoe had been the one to find her abandoned and running along a country road. She had decided not to adopt her after she discovered that Zoe was “a screamer.”

Based on inflection, we learned to discern some of the meanings behind Zoe’s “vocabulary.” A whine? “Feed me” or “Let me out.” Talking? “Play with me” or “I want to go with you.” A bark? “I’m protecting the pack” or “For heaven’s sake, throw the ball already!” As a bonus sound, Zoe liked to sing along when we sang Christmas songs or “Happy Birthday” (much to the belly laughs of grandbabies).

Zoe was the only dog I ever owned that would actually bring a ball back to you over and over. She relished chasing a thrown tennis ball, hurling herself into the air, and catching it on first bounce, in mid-flight. The kids called her “a pure athlete.” And she was. A 6-mile run with me in the Ohio countryside was no problem for her.

She had her share of mishaps that, looking back on them, seem comical now: Like the time Zoe had managed to run through the large end of a wire tomato cage, which became wrapped around her body. Or her run-in with a skunk, requiring a bath of hydrogen peroxide, baking soda and dish-washing liquid.

Though routinely friendly with people, Zoe had her own rules about other dogs. Off their leashes, they were friends. But if Zoe or another dog were tethered to a leash, she became a ferocious defender of her owners. 

As with all of us, Zoe’s days were numbered. Around age 12, she slowed down, sometimes seeming confused and occasionally arthritic. One of our vets discovered she had cancer. The time for hard decisions had come. The loss would be devastating.

It’s so strange, I loved my dad, but I think I cried as hard when Zoe died as when he did. Why? I do not know, but our pets are so constant with their affection, so forgiving of our moods and mistakes. And we give thanks for their indiscriminate kindness amidst a world often cold and angry.

Mark Twain said, “Heaven goes by grace not merit. Otherwise you would stay out and your dog would go in.” I understand his thinking, but somehow heaven would be diminished without these precious pets of ours.

A few months ago, during lunch with a group of ministers, I posed the question, “So, dogs and cats, going to heaven or not?” “Yes! Absolutely!”— unanimous agreement. “You’re all a bunch of heretics,” I said as we laughed. I paused, then added, “And I’m with you.”

Even now I see Zoe restored, a puppy, flying through the air to snatch a ball in mid-flight.

Zoe — the word means “life.” And she brought life to us. We will always miss her.  OH

Jeff Paschal lives in Charlotte where he and his wife, Beth, are unworthy servants of a cat named Shelly.

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