When I look into the eyes of a dog, I see God. No other being has brought me closer to our Divine Spirit. Even a dog that has been battered and abused, kept in a kennel where he'll slowly break down because he was born to roam, will never lose his grace or ability to love others.
I have learned everything I need to know about being a good person from the canine species.
The following story was published in Good Housekeeping magazine, under my old name, Melinda Santa Cruz. It subsequently appeared in a gift book called Blessings, which was compiled by the editors of Good Housekeeping.
I believe the book is still for sale online. However, I will post the unedited version here. Katie was a transient dog that truly changed my life. The story that she blessed me with launched my career as a writer.
By Melinda Santa Cruz
I'd endured breast cancer treatments for almost a year when I decided to volunteer at my local animal shelter. Dogs are my true passion, but the home-owners association where we live forbade them, and I longed to run my fingers through soft fur and to smile into the adoring eyes of puppies.
After two months at the shelter, I had seen many dogs come and go, but one senior dog remained unclaimed. An Akita mix named Katie, she was slow and cloudy-eyed. Shelter workers said she had "bossy old broad syndrome," because she'd lie down on her walks and refuse to budge; once she had even urinated on the face of another dog.
Her personality wasn't the most charismatic, but Katie exuded a sweetness that captured the hearts of both volunteers and staff members. When the kennel filled to capacity, the staff decided to put her in a pen with another dog, rather than put her down. Katie got along well with her kennel mate, and everyone was happy.
One day, I came home to find a notice that said the association rules had changed, and each family would now be allowed to keep one dog. My head quickly filled with the many possibilities. Like most people, I preferred to adopt a frolicking puppy or a gorgeous purebred. But then I thought about old, gentle Katie, and my mind was made up. I would bring her home the next day.
Staff members cried upon hearing that Katie was my choice. As I was leaving, a visitor glared at me in the shelter lobby but then apologized when she realized I was taking old Katie out, not bringing her in.
Katie rode home in the backseat of my car, resting her chin on the upraised armrest so that her face got the full blast of air-conditioning. It must have been heaven after months of sweltering at the shelter. When we got home, she sniffed and around kept her distance as I patted the couch beside me. Minutes later, when she finally leaped up, I knew she had made the decision to stay. A curtain of darkness lifted, and I experienced true joy for the first time since my cancer diagnosis.
At night, Katie slept on my feet or with a paw spread over my legs, as if to make sure I'd still be there when she woke up. I didn't buy a leash; she happily followed me anywhere. I considered her such a blessing that each night I kissed her on the head and said, "Thank God for you," before going to bed. Eventually, Katie's devotion inspired me to take a dog-training instructor's course, which proved to be a bigger challenge than I'd bargained for.
Late one night, I was lying on the couch, poring over a textbook in preparation for a test, when Katie appeared beside me. When I turned my face toward her, she licked me on the forehead, then circled and plopped down on the bed. I'd been so consumed with studying, I'd forgotten about our ritual.
Katie taught me that unconditional love doesn't have to come in the most appealing package. She may not be the dog I wanted, but I'm certain she's the dog God wanted me to have.