My therapy dog from heaven

Originally Appeared in : 9811-5/24/18

In June 2013, not long after I first arrived in Statesboro, as pastor of Saint Matthew Parish, I met Debby Kruk, a parishioner who served on the board of directors of the Bulloch County humane society. The board had been meeting at Saint Matthew’s for a number of years, and Debbie asked if the board could continue to do so. I replied enthusiastically, “Yes! I love dogs!” Her kind reply was, “Then we’ll get you a dog!” I said, “That would be wonderful. This rectory even has a fenced-in backyard.” She then asked a simple question, “What kind of dogs do you like?” I responded rather sheepishly with one word: “Poodles.”


My sister Diane loved poodles and used to draw black poodles as a hint to my parents about a possible Christmas present. In 1959, her wish was granted, and Mimi, the first of three successive Clark poodles arrived in our home—the others were Gigi and Fifi. They lived a total combined total of 42 years.


I explained this to Debby, who may have thought, but did not say, “Of course, you would like poodles!” What she did say was this “Poodles are smart and expensive dogs, so we don’t often have a poodle dropped off. But we’ll keep an eye out for one and call you if one becomes available.”


Two years and two months went by, and then on August 8, 2015, Debby called with the welcome news, “Your dog is here!” She brought over Leo, a 5 -year-old white Bichon Frise-Poodle mix with a beautiful smile and distinctively curly tail. We bonded at once. Nine days later, I flew to Indianapolis on August 17, because my sister had told me that my 92-year-old mother, Marjorie, had asked to see me one last time. My brother-in-law Carl picked me up at the airport and drove me to Westminster Village North, where Mother had resided since 2009. I found her having difficulty seeing, unable to hear and barely able to speak. She has been unable to walk, even with a walker, for over a year. She was so unresponsive that I asked if I might anoint her with the sacrament of the sick, in periculo mortis. I did so and kept vigil for several hours, until we realized that her breathing was normal and that she would probably not pass away that night.


The next morning, Diane went to work and called the nursing home. She was surprised to hear that mother had awakened and was alert and chipper. She then called Carl, who was about to drive me to the airport. We decided to visit mother on the way. I was amazed that she had rallied so dramatically. She smiled at me and said, “I love you.” I told her that I loved her and she asked me to kiss her. So I did. And she said, “Again.” I kissed her again and then she surprised me by saying fairly clearly, “You were in a band.” By recalling the garage band that I was in, in junior high and high school, after the Beatles had come to this country, she was letting me know that she knew exactly who I was, her “Dougie boy.” I asked, “You mean the band I was in with Steve?” She said, “Yes. What was it called?” I said, “The Invaders.” She smiled in recognition. Then I told her that I now had a “puppy” (her usual word for any dog). “A puppy?” she asked. “What’s he called?” I told her, “Leo.” She smiled and repeated the name, “Leo.” That turned out to be the last word that I heard my mother say to me. I often told Leo, “My Mommy knew who you are.” But his command of English was poor, so I doubt that he understood, although he always wagged his tail when I said it. I considered him my therapy dog sent from heaven.


In the early morning of August 31, some hours after I had I had returned from a “Fifth Sunday” ecumenical service at First Presbyterian Church, I met up with Father John Johnson, pastor of St. Christopher’s Catholic Church in Claxton, at the dinner for the students after the University Mass that he had celebrated in my stead. I had invited him to spend the night away from the hustle and bustle of his parish and two missions. As a result, Father John and Leo were both with me when Carl called to break the news that my mother had died in my sister’s arms shortly before. We were blessed to have her in this world for 92 years, 7 months and 13 days since her birth on January 17, 1923.


On February 26, 2018, I underwent a total replacement of my left knee. The surgery took only an hour. The recovery is ongoing. For the first two weeks, I was back home in my rectory, cared for my friends and parishioners—and by Leo, who would lie curled up on my right as a machine raised, extended, retracted, and lowered my left leg for four hours each day. He had remained my therapy dog from heaven.


On Tuesday, May 15, 2018, Leo got sick. I took him to Westside Veterinary Clinic, where Dr. Stan Lee took personal care of my sick puppy. He diagnosed Leo with canine pancreatitis and did everything humanly possible to save his life. On Sunday, May 20, I received a call from Dr. Lee that we had lost Leo, my therapy dog from heaven. With Job, I said, “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.”  


I continue to thank the Giver of All Good Gifts for the nearly three years that I had with my therapy dog from heaven.


Father Douglas K. Clark is pastor of St. Matthew Church in Statesboro.

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