Just like that my house smells like dog again.
I brought him home from the orphanage on the first day of my last week of cancer radiation treatments. It was an added sixth week of radiation, thrown in at the last minute. They called it a “boost.” But I was already right at the edge of my ability to bear it, and a boost, I thought, could quite possible become a “push” right over the precipice into a very dark hole. And so, just like that, I decided it was time to adopt another dog.
My house had been too silent following the passing of dog Quincy; my heart was too vacant with only the tiny toes of Tuppence the cat to make foot prints across it. Tuppence tried – she sincerely tried – to step up, to fill the gap, to comfort me in the middle of all my grief and uncertainty (in the middle of her own grief and sense of loss); first the death of Q, and then my personal sense of the death of my innocence and perception of invulnerability with a cancer diagnosis. But it was a lot to ask of a very small black-and-white cat who is no more than a few pounds in weight, no bigger than inches in length, who had already accompanied me through many earlier losses and griefs. We both knew the “feng shui” of our house and our lives needed the presence of a dog. And I needed a sort of renewed belief in life and in tomorrows; I needed routines of comfort that come built in with dogs somehow.
And so I found him. Waiting in the long line of shelter kennels, the second one from the end. He was hunched far in the back. Abused and broken, terrified and hurting. And, I was told, he would be too frightened, too timid to come forward right away, if at all. And yet, he did. He came right to my fingers as they curled around the wires that separated us. He licked my hands, nuzzled my cheek – the very cheek that was burned raw and abused from radiation and surgery. He seemed to know. He seemed to recognized our intertwined spirits, our shadowed lives, both on the edge.
I thought about naming him “Job” – for all the obvious reasons – for all the degradation and disappointment, the deprivation and confusion and abandonment he had tolerated like that biblical namesake. But, instead, I named him Liam. He asked me to call him Liam – in a whisper that only I seemed to hear. It’s a name that’s soft and a bit mysterious. Irish. Fit for an old-soul.
The name Liam means “protector.” And it reminded me of a few lines from a poem by French writer Carmen Benos de Gastold that’s titled “The Prayer of the Dog.” It’s about a dog pledging to God his watchfulness and guardianship and faithfulness for his human family and their home, even for their sheep. And it ends with the dog praying: “Lord, do not let me die until, for them, all danger is driven away.” It seemed to me that this was particularly appropriate for this new dog named Liam. Because it’s what my silent prayer would be for him in return. He is just three years old: Lord, do not let me die until, for him, all danger is driven away.
And so Liam and I are growing in our confidence together. With Tuppence along for balance and trust, unquestioning acceptance, and infinite patience, and her never failing gentle cat wisdom.
Liam the protector still hides in the bushes when his fears overcome him, and barks overly loud when he’s striving to be brave. He still runs from any touch of which he’s achingly unsure. He steals food from the cat’s bowl and sometimes the trash, still questioning the reality of his next meal. But he sleeps in peace now. He’s starting to know how to play. He has a favorite toy. And already I have no doubt of his loyalty and faithfulness and guardianship of me. My heart and routines are joyful with his love. His eyes watch both Tuppence and me with adoration. He trusts a bit. And he hopes.
And so, just like that, both Liam and I have begun to live out those lines from the story of Job itself that predicted: “You will be secure because there is hope; you will look about you and take your rest in safety. You will lie down with no one to make you afraid.”
Just like that.