In 2003, my former wife and I got a dog. I had grown up in a family that had always had at least one dog, and I really like dogs. But having grieved the death of 5 of them in my lifetime, I was in no hurry to get another. So I was reluctant when my wife called me at work one day and asked if we could get one. I agreed to at least go look. And that we did.
After 2 minutes at the shelter, it was clear to me that we could not get the dog my wife wanted. He was a large, high-energy breed and, at the time, we lived in a small duplex with a tiny yard. But now I was starting to get the itch to get a dog as well, so I suggested we look at other dogs. Within a few minutes, I saw a shy-looking dog that I thought deserved a look. She was a tan, short-hair dog who, while being about twice their size, reminded me a bit of the dachshunds my parents had always owned. And so I suggested we take her into the viewing room.
Rachel, as she was called at the time, took to us immediately. Despite clearly being scared, she jumped into my lap within minutes and sat down. This was the dog for us, I thought. And my wife agreed. Little did I know what we were getting into.
After a mandatory waiting period, I picked up our new dog. Our first order of business was to name her, as neither of us much liked Rachel as a dog’s name. Our new dog had prominent and very active ears, so we initially thought about Radar. But that just didn’t seem to work with a female dog. The more we looked at her, the more we began to see a resemblance to a kangaroo – at least so far as her ears go. And so the name Roo was born. But not without some hesitation. At the time, my wife and I were already contemplating child names for our yet to be conceived children, and Rue was a middle name we were strongly considering for a girl. Rue, you see, was the only name by which I had known my great grandma Rulon, who had died years ago. But after some back and forth, my wife and I agreed that Roo was too perfect a name for our dog to let a possible name for a possible child in the unknown future to get in the way. And so the name Roo stuck.
Over the course of the next few months, Roo would come to be called by many other names as well. Within weeks, my wife and I began to call her Shadow Puppy for her constant desire to follow us around the house – right at our feet, no less. We called her People Dog because she liked to lay on her back in our bed with her head on a pillow. But my personal favorite nickname was Woofus. Like most dogs, Roo liked being wrapped up on blankets. One day while my wife and I were working in the computer room, Roo began barking. What made us laugh was that Roo was so wrapped up in a blanket at the time that her otherwise loud barks came out as muffled “woofs.” And so until my daughter was starting to talk, Woofus became Roo’s most used nickname. But when Elnora began to speak, she thought all dogs were “Roos.” And so my wife and I started calling Roo “Roo Dog.” And that was what we called her for the next several years. That is, when we weren’t yelling at her.
Shortly into our ownership of Roo, my wife and I knew we were going to be in for a lot of work. We quickly discovered that Roo was neither house- nor crate-trained. She was extremely afraid of most strangers, would nip at the heels of certain men who she seemed most scared of, and she was very aggressive towards other dogs. Roo had clearly been trained earlier in her life, as she did obey certain commands. But my wife and I decided that she must have been abused at some point.
Over the course of many months and many gallons of Nature’s Miracle-like products, my wife and I largely trained Roo to do her business outdoors. Though Roo never did learn to do anything more than stare at us when she wanted to go out, her accidents became more and more rare. Though she was always sad to do so, Roo began to go into her crate on command. After three scary incidents where Roo attacked other dogs who she thought were being aggressive towards her, she finally began to mellow to the point that we trusted her to sit alongside certain family member’s dogs. And the older Roo got, the more and more accustomed she became to being around people.
Still, for the first few years – I’ll be honest – Roo was a handful. Despite being a sweet dog, her behavior around folks other than my wife and I made family visits nearly impossible, made vacation plans difficult, and made nights out stressful. Even once she was fully crate-trained, Roo would poop or pee in her cage if she was left in it for more than about 6 hours in a row. She had fleas several times, barked constantly when she was left in her cage, got in the trash or other things if she wasn’t, and once threw up what must have been a gallon of grossness onto my leg while I was sleeping. And so for a long time, the frustration that Roo caused made it easy to overlook what was good about her.
My daughter was born after Roo had been a part of the family for about a year. And soon things began to change. The added stress of a baby in the household – even a baby as wonderful as my daughter – meant that things needed to change. No longer could Roo sleep in bed with us. She was kicked off the couch, was no longer fed from the table, rarely got walks, and honestly, didn’t get half the attention she used to. But it was at this time that I began to realize what a good dog Roo actually was.
Roo had always been protective of my wife. It I were to lunge at my wife in jest, Roo would immediately spring between us and growl at me. And while I thought that was neat, it worried me as to how she might react to children. But as it turns out, Roo was the perfect dog for a child. While Roo was generally a submissive dog anyway, she became that and more around my daughter. Roo would largely put up with anything Elnora did to her and, to my delight, became just as protective of her as she was of her mother.
Over the next few years, Roo became a less important but more solid member of our family. No, she wasn’t at the forefront of all our activities like she used to be, but she had carved out her niche. When my wife and I moved to Sunbury and acquired a large yard, I was overjoyed to discover that Roo actually stayed within it’s boundaries willingly. Roo began to accept sleeping on the floor rather than the couch or bed. As my son Emmitt was born and my daughter Elnora grew, Roo played with them. And Roo finally decided that she loved several members of my family – my dad in particular. And they began to trust and love her back. She really was becoming the family dog.
In November of 2008, Roo’s life was turned upside-down just as mine was when my wife left me. Within months, I was divorced and Roo was just one more thing on my list that was lost, for my now ex-wife had moved 110 miles away and had taken Roo with her. Over the course of the next year, I saw Roo Dog rarely. I would occasionally keep her on a weekend while my children were with me. But then my children were my focus, and poor Roo rarely got more than a passing glance.
This past summer, the drama that was my new life took another turn when my former wife informed me that she could no longer keep our dog. Despite using a shock collar (to my dismay), Roo would not stop barking while in her crate, which was threatening my ex-wife’s apartment lease. Though letting her run free in the apartment was a valid solution, it was not one that suited my former wife. So I was given an ultimatum: if I did not take Roo or another home was not found for her, she was going to be put down. Though I shouldn’t have been surprised given the previous year, I was taken aback. I neither had the resources nor time to keep Roo myself. For though Roo was a much-improved dog, she still could not spend all day, each and every day in a crate. And I didn’t want to do that to her anyway.
The weekend before my former wife was to decide Roo’s fate, our dog paid me a visit. My children and I talked extensively about Roo – who was, as far as they were concerned – a member of our family. “Why would we get rid of someone in our family?” my daughter asked. Indeed, why would we? And so I decided to keep Roo. Mind you, I had no idea how I was going to even pay for her food and vet bills, let alone how I was going to let her outside to do her business each day when I worked 35 minutes from home. But to my amazement, things couldn’t have gone more smoothly.
Within a couple days of deciding to keep Roo, a good friend offered to help me by letting Roo out each day at noon. My former wife offered to help me with the vet bills. And Roo was on her best behavior ever. Over the course of the next few weeks, Roo and I took several long walks – often without a leash. I got comment after comment about how pretty and good a dog she was from complete strangers. And it was good to have her greet me when I got home from work each night. Roo even decided she really liked one of my best friends – someone who she had formerly snapped at. And then tragedy struck.
The previous week, I had taken Roo to my parents’ farm for the first time in many months. Roo always enjoyed the visit, as she loved exploring the barnyard, as any dog would. But that time was different. Since Roo had been so well-behaved lately, I had let her run outside unattended (though watched) for most of the day. Much like she had done in Sunbury, to my amazement, she never left the yard. And so, as my children prepared for a visit to the farm with me, I had little doubt that Roo would repeat her stellar behavior. And that she did – for a while.
I was exhausted that weekend. Part of the reason I wanted to visit the farm was so that my children and I could relax. With my parents to help, I thought I could finally get some much-needed rest. Roo had finally become a trustworthy dog, I thought. So when Elnora, Emmitt and I went in the house, we left Roo outside to explore. Sure, I checked on her several times, and she was always within sight. For a while she even sat on the front porch. But the fairy tale ended abruptly when a woman knocked on the front door. She was there to tell us that the car in front of her had hit a dog in front of the house. But before she could even get out the words, my dad noticed Roo laying on the road. “Ohhhh….! Roo’s on the road!” he said and sprinted out the door. I followed him, only to collapse in tears in the front yard as Dad picked up Roo’s lifeless body.
The next hour was one of the saddest in my life. My daughter immediately began to cry as I explained to her what had happened – what I had LET happen. I took Elnora and Emmitt outside to see Roo, as dad had set her in the yard by the back step. Were it not for blood running out of her mouth, I would have guessed Roo Dog was sleeping. She had nary a mark on her, save a tiny dot smaller than a pencil eraser in the middle of her forehead. My mom and dad soon joined me and my children and, for the first time, we all cried together.
As my children and I cried, my dad began to dig a grave for Roo. Every other pet that I had outlived was buried beside the field that paralleled the driveway. But Dad started to dig right beside the house. After a few minutes, I began to help him. When the hole was deep enough, I asked my daughter to go pick some flowers. My dad wrapped Roo in a blanket, lowered her into the hole, and my daughter dropped the flowers in with her. I prayed out loud and then my dad began to fill the hole. “Stop hurting Roo! Why are you hurting her?” my son asked. The reality of what had happened finally reached him as well, and he began to cry again. We all did. Later, my dad fashioned a wooden cross and made a marker for Roo’s grave. And it is there to this day.
It has been several months now, yet as I write these words, my eyes are filling with tears. Even now, when my daughter prays, she thanks Jesus for Roo Dog. She often draws Roo. And sometimes she asks if we will see Roo again when we go to see Jesus. And my standard answer is yes, I believe we will. Jesus, you see, loves us so much. And to that end, I believe He will restore Roo to us on the New Earth, if we only ask him. But I also believe that Jesus’ love for us is why Roo Dog is no longer with us.
Without a doubt, it was going to be a challenge to keep Roo. My children and I had grown accustomed to visiting playgrounds, festivals, friend’s houses and the beach on occasion on the weekends. And while it was a great blessing to have Roo Dog back, her living with me jeopardized what I had with my children. As God’s most valued possession, he gives us the freedom to make our own decisions. But we must remember that God holds the keys to life and death. I believe that, for the sake of my family, Jesus asked Roo Dog on that fateful day to walk in front of that car. And being the good dog that she was, she said yes.
When my life comes to an end one day, I look forward to getting to see my Pappa again. I can’t wait to meet the Apostle Paul. And I want to give my Lord the biggest hug. But I’d be lying if I didn’t also say I look forward to seeing Roo Dog again. For she truly was – and is – a good dog.