Chapter Thirty Four: When Death Calls

My phone wouldn’t stop ringing. I’d flipped it to silent, but still it buzzed over and over again in my pocket. I was annoyed that someone would be interrupting me in such a critical moment. The business was just starting to have some traction, and I was meeting with some new business partners, having what I thought was one of the most important conversations of my life. Buzzzzz, buzzzz, buzzzz. On and on, it wouldn’t stop. Finally, I glanced down at my phone and saw that I had seven missed calls from Chelsea. Before I could swipe my keys, she called again.

I answered an expensive phone call; the cost would be the life of a friend who’d never abandoned me, a friend who held me while I wept, screamed, and grieved for the countless lives lost before my eyes. He’d been with me as I’d explored tunnels in the mountains and when I’d made my way through the halls of hell that marked my past. He’d never mocked me or called me crazy. He let me weep when I needed to and swam at my side when I dove into the depths of water for the first time in four years. He’d kept my heart beating on nights when I thought it would burst. He’d kept our bodies warm when Chelsea and I shivered against the alpine cold. He’d reminded me there was still joy in the mourning, and there was yet a story of rescue waiting for us all. His name was Ruger; he was my best friend, and he was my dog.

Ruger came into Chelsea’s and my life just about the time that the “Switch” occurred from Nate to Nathan. Chelsea knew how badly I’d wanted a dog and she thought it was time we got one. I spent a few months researching before I decided on a few breeds that were ideal. The choices narrowed down by our budget as we began to go and check out different puppies in the area. Soon one option would rise above the others.

Ruger came to Chelsea and me from an island in the Bahamas called Turks and Caicos. Although we had never been to the island, we heard that there was a problem with the overpopulation of feral dogs. Most of the dogs are friendly scavengers who are a wide blend of breeds and sizes from shepherds to corgis. The dogs earn their name from begging for food, which the locals prepare in large pots. After cooking and later reheating beans and peas in the same pot, a thick burned cake is left behind. This pot cake is then fed to the dogs. This is why Ruger is a Royal Bahamian Potcake. Potcakes’ character traits vary but most are known for two things: intelligence and intense loyalty. Because of this, they are beloved by their owners who can acquire one through a person couriering them back to the US where they are disseminated through various agencies.

Ruger came to the United States as a four-month-old puppy in the worst shape. He was emaciated with health issues ranging from giardia to an extremely weak, damaged hip. Chelsea and I went to look at him over at a home that fostered dogs waiting to find their home. We saw Ruger for the first time trotting in from the backyard where he was playing with his other Potcake brother. When he came inside, he saw us strangers and skirted to the edge of the house, watching us with fixed trepidation. Only after a few minutes of him seeing how the other dogs were content with our presence did he come and allow us our first greeting. We had spent many months researching how to select a dog and though Ruger was a mix of breeds I was more than eager to own, his initial personality was not quite what I was hoping for.

As we spent more time testing Ruger and him testing us, the Lord moved me in my spirit that this was the dog he had for Chelsea and me. Wanting confirmation, I pulled Chelsea aside and as we spoke, it became abundantly clear that she was discerning the same thing. We told the owner our thoughts, and we all agreed to welcome him into our family. We placed Ruger in his little kennel and drove him to his new home.

Ruger’s arrival in our house was met with excitement and also a dedication I had not had for any dog. I was determined to train, bond, and cultivate a companionship with him. I was free to pour my passion into this dog. I would spend hours watching training videos, reading books, and then putting into practice what I had learned.

His initial welcome into our house was met with trepidation of the most extreme degree. He spent his first day shaking in his kennel, too unsure to come out. Ruger later ever so cautiously emerged and began to explore his home for the first time in his life. It was a real home for him. It took a few more days, but as he became more confident of his surroundings, he began to show his prowess.

Ruger was by far the most intelligent dog I had ever worked with, and he learned everything I could throw at him as quickly as I could figure out how to teach it to him. With only two potty incidents inside, I thought I couldn’t have received a more wonderful dog. But Ruger would not turn out to be an easy dog; instead, he would be the dog Chelsea and I needed.

Just as we thought Ruger was coming into his own, two large dogs smashed into him at the dog park. The impact further damaged Ruger’s already weakened hip and led to him being crippled. Here was the dog I had waited all my life for, but what I had thought would be the perfect guardian and backpacking companion dog for Chelsea and me was a crippled, growth stunted, 33lb mess of a dog. His messiness drove me to continually ask Abba, “Why? Why would this have been the dog You chose for us?” Over and over, He was silent in His response to my fervent prayers until one day His voice rang through my frustration, “I entrusted him to you.” That was all He said but that was everything. In five words, The Living God was generous enough to share with me a perspective that only He can give. God chose not to provide me with a perfectly healthy and expertly trained dog. Instead, he entrusted me with a broken, messy animal that needed one thing more than any other: commitment.

Ruger required owners that were willing to do whatever it took to give him every chance for a fulfilled existence on this earth. Ruger is a dog, I know this, and he will always be a dog, but as any person who has put the time, dedication, and sacrifice into really raising a superb dog can tell you, there is so much more there when you have a relationship with a great dog than when you merely own a pet. Ruger spent months of his first year of life barely able to walk, and pooping colors and textures I don’t even want to try to describe.

Unfortunately for Ruger, and more so for us, his problems stemmed not merely from his physical health but also from his overall wellness. Ruger – like most dogs who are rescued from severe abuse or neglect cases – had baggage. More than a busted hip, Ruger lived out of fear. His interactions with Chelsea and me that first moment we laid eyes on him were powerful indicators of this. Though the Lord’s words calmed my reservations regarding this, the fear in Ruger was the subtle enemy of the bond with a great dog I had so desperately sought.

It first came to notice on our second walk with Ruger. His first had gone so well I was nearly beside myself with joy. But then the honeymoon phase ended, and the fullness of Ruger’s baggage came out as we walked by his first terror: a trash can. To Ruger, the black trashcans parked on the side of the curb caused terror in his emaciated little body. He would urinate on himself, shaking from head to tail on his short leash. I could see in him a single emotion: terror. Ruger knew terror because he had been terrorized.

At the hands of human beings, Ruger was taught fear. He was made to know its nature and to understand its most detailed intricacies. Ruger’s fear was not limited to trashcans but it included keys, large men, things covering his head, bags hanging off people, and cords. Ruger’s seemingly unconnected sets of random stuff in my house and in my neighborhood caused terror in him. Ruger feared that which had harmed him. This is the fruit of evil. People had abused my dog.

He had been taught to fear. He had been taught an evil thing. Now thousands of miles away from those abusers, on his second walk in my neighborhood, Ruger saw one of those same trashcans he had been taught to fear. No wonder my dog had fears. Evil had gotten its mark on my dog. And so I was faced with that beautiful word again: entrusted.

This dog is whom God entrusted to Chelsea and me. This was the greatest of blessings I could have ever known. For as Chelsea and I would encounter one of Ruger’s fears, we would teach him a new word: faith. It was not kindness, compassion, or gentleness; it was faith, which inoculated my dog to the most potent form of evil.

Ruger needed to know that he could trust me. He needed to know I was not one of those abusive people. He needed to know that his pack leader was good. He needed to know his leader would feed him, shelter him, and meet his basic needs first.

Once Ruger learned he would have those needs met, he was freed to learn that I would always protect him, love him, and be kind to him. He needed to believe I would be patient, compassionate, and gentle. As Ruger came to know these truths, he was freed to learn that the rope in his pack leader’s hands was safe because he could trust his pack leader. This was the process for Chelsea and me to teach Ruger the things he once feared no longer had to keep him terrorized.

We met Ruger’s needs. We studied, we researched, we got help, and we learned how to be the right owners to Ruger. We believed Ruger needed to be made well, and Chelsea and I were given the opportunity be the answer to that problem. We were able to be faithful and steadfast in that call, and because of it, we were able to see just what God can do when we are obedient. I could not have known what God was going to do to our lives through having an abused dog in our home, but as always when we step into the thing we fear, Yahweh shows us just how powerful His Ways are.

Yahweh knew what was coming in the years ahead. He knew the handlers of my personality were going to park outside my driveway and trigger me with their words because my “services” were going to be demanded again. More importantly, Yahweh knew I was going to need a companion for the journey into The Wilderness of remembering and learning the truth. That harrowing call, which interrupted my meeting rang through with words that would devour this love of mine. Before I can tell you the end I must tell you about a choice, which changed me forever. It will lead us back to the days before Naomi graced us with her arrival. A time when the mountains became my retreat and my dog kept me breathing.

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