My Girl

Every time I try to take a selfie of the both of us, she covers my face so that I can’t see, or knocks my hands, or otherwise edges away. It doesn’t show in this shot, where she’s giving me ‘the eye’, but she is wagging her tail.

The rescue animal shelter had saved her off the streets. Her mother was a feral dog with three puppies only weeks old. They identified her as a mixed red-heeler, a cattle dog for herding and protecting. She was almost three months old when I took her in my arms and heart. Someone at the shelter had given her the name of Faith. They said I could change it. But Faith sounded about right to me. My husband had been gone just over a year. I faced so much every day. I prayed for faith to keep going, and she is evidence that God heard me. She has been a never-failing faithful companion for almost seven years.

Every time I play Monopoly with the grandchildren, one of us will mention the gnawed corner of the special-edition wooden game box, where Faith chewed it in the first weeks. Then there is the white porch rocker still bearing a crudely repaired arm. There were kids’ plastic toys and the usual slipper; she was like a goat and ate them. The worst was the pair of new eye glasses belonging to one of Mama’s nurses.

None of that mattered. We all loved her.

My Girl grew fast. She quickly outgrew her first crate, and I decided she took up too much room in the bed with me. I got her an enormous crate that I put beside my bed. This worked, as long as I didn’t attempt to shut her into it. Twice I tried, and my girl dealt with the situation by taking the metal wires of the crate in her strong jaws and shaking it until the whole thing fell apart.

The first Christmas Eve, I forgot to shut the bedroom door. I awoke at midnight to a noise and realized my mistake and feared that Faith could be wandering and chewing. I found the poor darling, barely five months old and mostly housebroken, had had diarrhea in my office, the most distant corner she could find. Quietly, not wanting to wake anyone, I went downstairs and got the box containing the brand new rug shampooer that had arrived that very afternoon, as if an angel had known I would need it. I stealthily unpacked the machine, put it together, and used it and the shampoo that came with it (so convenient). Finished cleaning, I gazed at the carpet with high satisfaction. The machine worked better than I had ever imagined it would. Within an hour, my girl and I were back slumbering in our beds.

Many years ago a trainer of horses and dogs told me: “Keep a dog with you all the time, and training happens automatically.” So from the first I kept Faith with me day and night. She sits in the back seat of the truck like a person. Seemingly without being taught, she has always known how to be on a lead.

Yes, I talk to her. I carry on whole conversations. She reads my tone of voice, my expression, the motion of my body. She even knows a certain clearing of my throat means not to do what she is about to do.

I learned that I cannot say, “Oh, my goodness!” in an alarmed tone, either from excitement in a movie, or a news item, or because I forgot and left something in the oven. Hearing this, Faith will instantly be on her feet and let out a protective bark and run in the direction of where I happen to be looking, ready to meet the threat.

I am her charge. No one is coming in unannounced. I’m safe when camping, my truck is safe, and never a worry on a hiking trail. Once I had the unnerving experience of getting turned around on a trail and even with a map, couldn’t figure out the direction I needed to go. I told Faith: “Take us home, girl. Take us home.” She looked at my face and started down the trail. I followed her. She led me directly to our campsite.

Faith is my companion, my protector, my comforter, often my source of laughter and inspiration. She is the answer to a prayer that I didn’t even know how to make.

Father, thank you for feathers and fur that cover the hearts of unexpected angels. Thanks for the softness between my fingers that reminds me of how my heart can grow. Thank you for the wonder they inspire, the smiles and laughter. Thank you for their touch and their ability to share. Everything that lives is holy, life delights in life.

~ William Blake, artist, poet, philosopher