Last November, my little dog Freddy died under the most tragic circumstances.
Twelve-pound, chihuahua-Jack Russell-mix, white-and-brown, short-haired, big-eared Freddy had been with us for only six years. My daughter found him and his brother at the pound and gave him to us as a tiny puppy. We’d watched him grow into the smartest, best little dog-man in the world.
I’d take him to the park to ride in my basket along miles of Orange Trail, Orlando’s recreational circulatory system filled with walkers and bikers. On the empty stretches, I’d take him out of the basket to run alongside me like a cheetah, tongue dangling, eyes wild, with me screaming “Go Freddy!” like a hysterical fan at the Olympics. For a person with a serious, responsibility-filled life, these childlike moments of shared glee became important self-care. Never once did Freddy jump from the basket, even when I slowed to a crawl. I thought he never would.
But then Mike and I biked in Wekiva Park one Sabbath, Freddy perched on the edge of my basket like a living masthead. Toward the end of our ride, Mike disappeared around a corner and—I realize now—wild instinct pulsed through my dog’s canine heart. He couldn’t bear separation from the alpha male of our family “pack.” Freddy suddenly, freakishly, hurled his compact little body out of my basket, landing straight in front of my tire, a positioning that led to a forceful impact and a yelp-screech. Due to my speed, it took me a full 30 feet to slow enough to throw my bike down, scream Freddy’s name, and wheel around in desperate hope he’d survived.
What I saw has frozen itself in my memory. Freddy’s body lay on its side, his stubby legs forking the air, motionless. But my little guy wagged his tail at the sound of my scream. I ran to him, scooped him into my arms, placed him in the basket, and rode like hell to the parking lot, blood streaming everywhere. Again cradling him in my arms, I cried to Michael and then to the park ranger in the gatehouse, who told us of a nearby animal hospital.
We prayed as Mike drove for ten eternity minutes. Arriving, I burst inside, still-breathing-but-unconscious-man’s-best-friend bleeding in my arms. “My dog got hit by a bike!” I bawled to the young lady at the desk. In spite of the closing time that had already come and gone, the kind doctor hooked my dog up to a breathing machine and began to run tests. In what was probably idiotic hope, we then transferred still-unconscious Freddy to another clinic that did overnight care, skulking home under a cloud of foreboding that gave way to despair when the call came at 11PM. “He’s shutting down. The brain damage is so bad he can’t run his body anymore. His blood isn’t clotting. We could give him clotting factor, but it will only delay the . . .”
“Okay. Just put him down.”
We buried Freddy in our field where he’d soon become part of the earth he loved and hung so close to, being small. Nature surged with life all around our dead friend—the bugs he’d snapped at, buzzing past, little mice he’d chased peeking out, wild grass that once welcomed his cheetah-like, running form waving in the wind. Our hearts surged too, in convulsing pain at his loss. I asked every evangelist I know if I’d see my dog in heaven. I even called Steve Wohlberg, who’d written Will My Pet Go to Heaven? to just hear another dog-lover reassure me, but hung up before he answered, not wanting to be weird.
But I am weird. I really loved Freddy. And Freddy loved me.
My heart has mended very slowly. . . I take that back; it never will. There’s still a little portion of it that occasionally falls open as if unhinged, spilling tears, regrets and realizations that I still miss him and, until heaven, always will. The remorse eats at me, too. I’m sorry it was my bike and my carelessness that killed him. But in a more big-picture way, I’m sorry for the fragility of corporeal existence, brought upon creation by human choice. Members of the animal kingdom have suffered the results of a spiritual fall they lacked even the faculties to cause themselves. And in that sense the dogs, cats, squirrels, and cheetahs of the world are innocent victims.
So, here’s my apology and my promise to Freddy, taken from Paul’s writings:
“For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time” Romans 8:19-22.
Soon, when the children of God are “revealed,” apokalypsis, uncovered, God will liberate the creation from bondage and we will love one another for eternity. Jesus, be uncovered in me today that I may hasten your coming.