Pepper is a medium to large black dog of undetermined mixed breeds. The first time we met, her owner, Kim (not her real name) had a firm grip on her leash as she barked and growled at me. I kept wondering, “If Kim’s grip slips, is that dog going to attack me?” Little did I know, in a few days she would have just such an opportunity!
Virginia and I were there to check up on Kim who had fallen and hurt her ankle. It was discolored and swollen even after a day and a half. The decision was made, a trip to the emergency room was needed.
The first challenge was to get Pepper out of the house so we could help Kim get to the car. The laundry room has three doors: one to the garage, one to the rest of the house, and one to the back yard. I opened the back door to the yard, then opened the door to the house and quickly ducked into the garage. Pepper heard the noise and came to investigate; she discovered the back door open. I watched her go outside through the small garage door window and then quickly shut the back door behind her.
The plan was to take Kim to the ER and wait for her to get x-rays and probably a boot and then take her home. But after a three hour wait, we found out Kim was in worse shape than we knew and she was being admitted to the hospital.
For the next several days, Virginia and I went over to Kim’s house twice a day to let Pepper out and to give her fresh food and water. She quickly adapted to the routine; I would go into the laundry room from the garage, open the back door, then open the door to the house, then I’d duck into the garage. Pepper would go outside, and I’d quickly shut the back door. We’d let her run around for ten to fifteen minutes and then I’d open the door to the house, open the back door, and scurry back into the garage. Pepper would wait for a minute or two, until she felt safe, then she’d come back into the house. When I stepped out of the garage to shut the door to the house she would bark and growl at me, but I was able to shut all the doors and leave without being attacked.
While in the hospital Kim realized her condition was going to entail a long-term recovery and she was not going to be able to take care of Pepper. She came to the difficult decision to ask us to find a new home for Pepper. My first thought was, “How am I going to get Pepper into a car without being attacked?”
When we went over to Kim’s house to get Pepper, I took along leather gloves and a thick winter coat. I hoped I wouldn’t need them – I wanted to avoid the trauma that would come to both of us if it came down to an attack. It would be highly stressful for the dog as well as the human (me).
I let Pepper out and instead of retreating to the garage I went into the back yard with her. I stood there for a few minutes while she barked and growled, and then she started running around. I sat down on the cement porch and she stopped and stood about fifteen feet away, watching me, trying to figure out what I was doing. I ignored her for about ten minutes, then I stood up. Eventually Pepper when into the laundry room. I had shut the door to the house and to the garage; the only way out was through the back door where I was standing. I went in, closing the back door behind me, knowing Pepper was now cornered. I also knew there was a good chance that once cornered like this an attack was likely. I approached her, as she continued barking and growling at me. I had a feeling that if she were going to bite me that she would snap at me first. If that happened, I’d have to get my gloves and coat. I reached my hand down and gently laid it on the back of her head, right behind her ears. She melted. Instead of biting or getting aggressive, she sat down and leaned into me. I put my other hand in front of her so she could smell it, but instead she licked it. I knelt down beside her and stroked her head. That's when I fell in love with this dog. I gently slipped the leash over her head as she soaked up the attention. She didn’t struggle as I led her out to the car. Unfortunately, there is no way I could keep Pepper. We'd made a powerful connection and I felt a deep sense of loss as I watched her leave in the car that took her away.
At the end of the day I couldn’t help but think about Pepper and the fear she had. Her fear had caused her to act in ways that were not true to her character. She’s a sweetheart, wanting to give love and wanting to receive love, but in her fear she acted like a mean bully. Does that happen to us sometimes too? When we’re afraid or stressed by uncertainty do we sometimes snap and growl at people, even people who are there to help us? And what was the cure? It was a touch – a touch of love. Where do our touches of love come from? They can come from friends and sometimes strangers, from family, from our church family, but most of all, they come from God. If we allow Him to, He will touch us each day with His love.
1 John 4:18 says, “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear…” I saw that happen this week and was highly blessed by it. It is an important lesson I hope I never forget.