In my travels I have come across some hard people. Mean people with horrible histories. People who committed crimes as a matter of course. People who had so little good left in them that the rest of us could tell at a glance that they were people to stay away from. One such person was a fellow named Keith.
Keith had been abused as a child. Violently so. His parents didn’t want him, he was nothing more than a source of federal income once a month when the welfare check came in. The rest of the time he was either beaten or ignored. By the ripe old age of eight, Keith decided to kill himself.
He set about the process in a very logical manner for such a young child. He set up a bar stool beneath a tree outside while his parents were off at a bar or working on their next big scam. He threw a rope up over the branch of a tree and got it tied off. He looped a crude noose over his head and even managed to tie his own hands behind his back, knowing that once the rope pulled tight he would instinctively try to save himself. Such a smart little sad boy.
At last, the moment of truth came. He was up on the stool, noosed and ready to go. He was about to kick the stool away. And then it happened. The dog came.
Keith didn’t live in the best of neighborhoods. The people who lived there were nasty and, alas, so were their dogs. One dog in particular was known to run free and bite whoever he came into contact with. Keith was deathly afraid of that dog. And here was that little terror of a dog snapping at Keith’s heals as he stood on his bar stool beneath his tree.
Keith knew that once he kicked the stool away he would fall just far enough for that mean little dog to bite his feet. More than the noose around his neck, more than the fear of death, Keith was terrified by the notion of that dog tearing into his dangling feet. And that fear kept him on the stool.
Unfortunately, Keith really had done a good job of tying his own hands. He couldn’t get loose. The dog wouldn’t go away. And so that was how Keith’s parents found him when they finally bothered to come home.
This isn’t a very happy story. Certainly not what you expect to find on a site devoted to those who love dogs. But bear with me just a tiny bit longer.
“But bear with me just a tiny bit longer.”
See, when I met Keith he was working to fight off the shackles of decades of drug addiction. He was struggling with a criminal record longer than the Great Wall of China. He was a haggard old man with nothing nice to say about anyone. And yet, when he told me this story his eyes filled with tears when he got to the part about the dog.
Keith had come to terms with pretty much everything in his life. He’d forgiven those he could forgive and written off those he could not. He accepted that the bad things in his life had happened and couldn’t be changed. He looked only to the future. But what he couldn’t come to terms with was that little dog. He couldn’t understand why that nasty little monster had saved his life that day. For he was convinced that is what the dog had intended.
Keith believed that this neighborhood nightmare had not simply been trying to bite him. He believed that little dog had somehow understood what was at stake and had intentionally kept that little eight year old boy hemmed up on top of the stool. And his reasoning is sound.
That dog stayed there at the foot of that stool for hours. That was how long it took for Keith’s parents to come home. Hours. What dog has that kind of attention span? What dog has that kind of tenacity? There was more going on than a bad dog’s desire to bite the feet of a little boy. No, that rotten little mongrel knew exactly what he was doing.
The man I knew was a monster. But when Keith told this story his eyes lit up and he became, however briefly, human. This is the power of dogs. Even a mean and nasty little thing like that neighborhood terror had the power, fifty years later, to bring tears to the eyes of a hardened criminal.
I think back on some of the dogs who have graced my life. I wonder how much better off Keith would have been if he’d had such animals in his life. If his one good memory was of a bad dog, how much better would his life have been if he’d been surrounded by good dogs? And then I wonder, could that be the secret to world peace? What if every one of us, everywhere around the world, had the love of a dog? What a world that would be!
If you enjoyed this post, you should read “We Meet New Friends” here.
Have you seen a dog change a life for the better? Share your story below.