The Asahi Shimbun, one of Japan’s biggest newspaper groups, carries a regular Agony Aunt column called ‘Annie’s Mailbox’ in its English language edition which comes with the International Herald Tribune’s Japan edition. (In Japan, the IHT and the AS English edition come together as one newspaper with the AS forming the second half of the IHT in its Japan edition – a 2-in-1 newspaper, so to say).
This morning’s ‘Mailbox’ carried a letter from a boy who’d lost his pet dog and wondered whether that was it, or maybe he’d see him again in the afterlife. In reply, ‘Annie’ reproduced what she called one of her favorite essays which I also reproduce below:
Do Dogs Go To Heaven?
by the Rev. Dale Turner (1917-2006)
Looking back across the years I see how important dogs have been in my life. I had been an ordained minister only a few weeks when I received a call from an 8-year-old boy. His dog had been killed by a car. “Mr. Turner,” the lad sobbed, “do you do funerals for dogs?”
I didn’t know quite how to respond, but I recalled the Scriptures’ affirmation of God’s knowing when even a sparrow falls. I replied, “Why not?” and I conducted a little ceremony for the boy’s pet.
He was very pleased and then asked, “Is my dog going to heaven?” I wasn’t prepared for that question, but my love for animals got me through it. I’m sure I made the child feel better.
Several years later I had my own personal experience that provided the answer I had never been sure of.
Our wonderful dachshund, Gretta, died and we were eager to bring another dog into our home. We went to the pound to get the dachshund whose photo had appeared in the paper. By the time we arrived, it had been claimed. Another puppy, sensing our mission, poked her nose through the wire fence. The look in her eyes seemed to say, “Please, pick me.” We did. And we named her Pick.
Whenever I came home, Pick was there to greet me. I’d say, “Pick, you’ve got it made. Other animals work for their keep. A canary sings, cows give milk, chickens lay eggs, but you don’t have to do anything but hang around.”
After 14 years, Pick became very sick and there was nothing to be done except put her out of her misery. With a heavy heart I drove her to the vet’s, who did what had to be done. I then went back to my study and wept for hours.
A few days later, a parishioner who knew of my grief sent me this poem. It healed my sorrow. Perhaps it will help others. I’d like to share it.
I explained to St. Peter,
I’d rather stay here,
Outside the pearly gate.
I won’t be a nuisance,
I won’t even bark,
I’ll be very patient and wait.
I’ll be here, chewing on a celestial bone,
No matter how long you may be.
I’d miss you so much, if I went in alone,
It wouldn’t be heaven for me.
The essay, especially the wonderful poem at the end, brought back so many memories of our beloved dogs back when we were kids. I don’t recall any time when we were without a dog. We usually had two most of the time and they were treated as part of the family.
I particularly recall ‘Goofy’, an Alsatian, whose full name was ‘Dick Brown Lalgoofthang’ – ‘Goofy’ for short. ‘Dick Brown’ was his ‘Sap hming’ (‘English’ name) and ‘Lalgoofthang’ his Hmar name – the ‘goof’ part of it derived from the Walt Disney cartoon character ‘Goofy’ to whom he bore some resemblance, or so we thought. However, to anyone who cared to ask, we would first tell them his full name and then say that we normally called him ‘Goofy’ emphasizing that this was derived/shortened from his Hmar name, Lalgoofthang, and not from the Disney character.
He was a big, tough-looking dark brown dog (hence the ‘Dick Brown’ part of his name) with a big bark and a bigger heart. Apart from the season when a dog’s gotta do what a dog’s gotta do, that is, go a-courting all round our village or even beyond, he was always there to welcome us home night or day. His ecstatic welcoming bark and ‘hug’ on our return home from a night out with friends or on coming home for the weekends from Imphal where I was studying at that time had the power to take away all your worries, at least for a moment, because his welcome and showering of affection was so genuine and heartfelt, and was something I always looked forward to.
Goofy died of old age and we buried him in our garden. My brothers and I made a wooden cross on which we wrote his name which we planted on his grave. Whenever talks turn to dogs, my mind always recalls Goofy because he gave us so much joy and companionship during the time he was with us. We had quite a number of dogs both before and after Goofy till the wise guys of our village decided to basically ban ownership of dogs because incidences of people dying of rabies from dog bites had allegedly increased. Unless, one was prepared to keep the dog leashed at all times.
To us, keeping a member of the family leashed was never an option so we reluctantly stopped keeping dogs. I suppose our leaving the family coop and going off for further studies or jobs as well as other factors such as increasing incidences of dogs disappearing and turning up in somebody’s pot contributed.
I also remember ‘Spotty’. He didn’t have a ‘full’ name like Goofy. In fact, Goofy was the only dog we had who had a ‘full’ name – from the time he came to us as a small puppy, there was something extra special about him and hence the ‘full’ name. Spotty was a black and white common mongrel with a mournful face, black on the left and white on the right. We called him Spotty because his whole body was covered with black spots. Spotty was with us much before Goofy and, as always, much loved by us while he gave back an equal or even more love in return.
For some reason, Spotty was never the robust and tough kind of dog that we usually kept. Though he grew up fine and had his share of girlfriends and wandered high and low with us as we explored the hills and vales around our village, he soon developed some kind of disease and slowly began to lose his appetite. There were no vets whom we could consult in those days, but a guy from our village who worked in the ‘vety’ department brought us some greenish looking medicine which they used to inject cattle showing similar symptoms. He came and gave Spotty his first injection, on his thigh.
Being the eldest boy in the family, it became my duty to give the rest of the injections. Once a day, I would inject Spotty on the thigh, always taking care to ensure that I did not inject him in the same place twice. I remember Spotty would perk up as I approached, wag his tails weakly and let me stab him with the syringe as I spoke soothing words and he would look at me with his big mournful eyes. The first time I stabbed Spotty with the syringe, I expected that he would maybe flinch or yelp or show some sign of pain. But he never did – and I came to realize that dogs have such thick skins that they do not feel the pinch of a syringe.
However, despite the injections and the special food and whatever care we were able to give, Spotty never recovered from his illness. We prepared a special bed, lined with soft cloth and tried to make him as comfortable as possible. At first he would sit up, wag his tail and greet us whenever we approached. But, as the disease ravaged poor Spotty’s body, he soon had no strength to sit up or even wag his tail.
But his eyes somehow remained alert as ever. Every time I approached him (which was as often as I could bear to see him slowly dying), he would try to lift up his head and his eyes would look directly at me. It was heartbreaking to see him lying there, too weak to move, and looking at you with eyes full of trust knowing that you were going to make him better.
Towards the end, we could only pray that his suffering would come to an end as swiftly as possible. But he clung on. The hours became days and the days weeks. He became all bones, unable to eat anything solid and barely managing to drink water or the special soups we had to force-feed him. Until one day, when we could no longer bear to watch him fade away ever so slowly, the family council decided that there was no option but to end his suffering once and for all.
Once it was decided, it fell on me, as the eldest, to hasten Spotty’s departure. Spotty’s trusting eyes looking directly at me as I approached to do my dastardly deed will remain forever etched in my mind. We buried him in the back garden behind our chicken shed and planted some Japan theite on his grave a few months later. Years later, the Japan theite began bearing exceptionally big and juicy fruits and we were reminded of our ever faithful Spotty with the trusting eyes.
So, I’m sitting here wondering who will be there waiting for me outside the pearly gates when my time comes. Will it be Goofy, ever faithful, waiting to give me his own special ‘hug’? Will it be Brownie, Torpu, Blackie or any one of the wonderful dogs who shared their time with us?
Or will it be Spotty? How can I face Spotty after what I did? But, maybe, he knows and understands that what I did, what I had to do, was for the best?
Dear Spotty, are you still there
Outside the pearly gate
Chewing your celestial bone
Patiently waiting for me
No matter how long I may be,
Because if you went in alone,
It wouldn’t be heaven?
Or are you still there
Outside the pearly gate
Chewing your celestial bone
Patiently waiting for me,
Sharpening your teeth,
Because you know the time will come
To finally get even for my betrayal
Tokyo 21 Apr 2008