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Our Amazing Grace

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Unending Love, Amazing Grace

Dogs have an amazing capacity for understanding human emotions. They can read people better than people can read people. Scientists studying dogs’ ability to read the nuances of human expressions and emotions have confirmed what us dog lovers have known all along. I love the line from the poem,

“Eyes are the windows to the soul
Throughout my life I’ve been told
To see into another’s heart
Eyes are the place to start”[1]

Dogs have learned how to peer through that window and touch our hearts and capture our very souls better than anyone or anything else. When a person is in the last stages of their life, the light in that window dims until slowly it goes out. This is a very scary time for those people and it is very difficult time for those of us watching a loved one pass. A dog, however, has a special gift to help in this situation; they know how to reach that fading light of the soul, steady it, protect it and guide it through the final leg of its journey in this world. They do this with no judgment, only pure love. Dogs can reach these people in a way that the most compassionate person cannot. They do it on a more molecular level then we can ever hope to offer.  My mother-in-law recently passed away at the Hospice House of Southern West Virginia  after a long bout with cancer. Through that connection, I learned the staff was looking for a resident dog to help comfort the people spending their last days there. I was getting ready to retire Grace, an older Labrador from my breeding program. She had just finished weaning a litter of puppies, some of which were going to service dog homes. This was to be her last litter. Maybe it was fate these two events happened at the same time? It was apparent to me, though, that Grace was destined for another job. It might have been the exceptional way she behaved when many of the special needs children and their families came to visit. She had a lovely gentle approach with people to which everyone responded in kind. Whatever it was, things worked out that the Hospice House was willing to try Grace for a trial to see if she would fit in.

Sam made the five-and-half-hour trip to Beckley on the opposite end of our state, with a squeaky clean and shining Grace as his copilot. She was on her best behavior as she entered the halls of the facility. You could not have asked for better manners when Grace was introduced to the staff and the person that would become her main handler until she learned her new job. The staff had purchased a kennel crate for her that would stay at the nurses’ station for times when Grace needed a rest. While paperwork was being exchanged, Grace napped on her new mat in the crate. Her handler got her up after the nap to take her outside. At the particular entrance to the facility where they went outside, there was a large built-in fountain and pool, which Grace zeroed in on like a heat-seeking missile. Before anyone knew what had happened she was in the water splashing joyously in true Labrador fashion. Everyone broke out in uncontrollable laughter, while Grace entertained them with her antics. The tension and solemnness of the moment was gone. Sometime later that afternoon, Sam finally left the facility but not before Grace came rushing out of her crate down the hall to the door where he was headed. She blocked his path, snuggled against his leg and looked lovingly into his face. Perhaps it was her way of saying “thank you” for setting her free to share her love with so many who in return would give her the attention she deserved. Our Amazing Grace had come home.

Amazing grace[2] How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me
I once was lost, but now I’m found
Was blind, but now I see
‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear
And grace my fears relieved
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed
My chains are gone
I’ve been set free
My God, my Savior has ransomed me
And like a flood His mercy rains
Unending love, Amazing grace

The Lord has promised good to me
His word my hope secures
He will my shield and portion be
As long as life endures

The earth shall soon dissolve like snow
The sun forbear to shine
But God, Who called me here below
Will be forever mine
Will be forever mine
You are forever mine
[1] From the poem “Eyes are the windows to the soul” by Vern Eaker
[2] Lyrics by CHRIS TOMLIN