I know what you’re thinking: “Well, that’s a pretty strange title.” But if you’ll give me the time it takes to drink a cup of coffee, I’ll try to make it worth the effort of reading.
I was buying lumber at a Lowe’s in Oregon. The store shared a parking lot with an animal shelter. I wasn’t looking for a dog, but after I loaded my truck, something made me think I should go check out the shelter.
“I’m not really looking for a dog,” I told them. “I have one at home already, plus, my wife’s not with me.” But when I went through the door into the kennel area, there she was, in the very first pen. Nahe, the name on the cage said.
She looked to be about a year old and was shy, staying in the rear of the pen. But we made eye contact. She was a beautiful German Shepherd, tan and black with gorgeous copper coloring on her head and chest. I wandered through the rest of the kennel area, but I really wasn’t looking any more.
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Destiny told me “Mike, it’s love at first sight.”
I went home and told Marilyn, my wife, that I may have found a dog I was interested in adopting. The only way “may” actually fit in that sentence was that it was May 2008.
We went back to the shelter late the next day. This time, when I went by Nahe’s pen, she wasn’t so shy. In fact, it was the first time she talked to me. She came to the kennel door, looked me dead in the eye and with her eyes said, “I’m why you’re here.” By the time Marilyn and I finished the adoption paperwork, it was almost closing time. The clerk told us the day’s books were closed and we could just take her home.
“I can tell she’s going to a loving home,” the clerk said. “Give us a donation later.” Destiny had greased the skids.
Nahe’s name became Kare (the Maori word for dear or friend). With her beautiful coloring and pleasant disposition, she drew attention wherever we went. One day, while explaining to some kids at a park that Kare was a rescue dog, they responded “Rescue! She knows how to rescue people?” I had no knowledge of K-9 search and rescue (SAR), but those kids, and Destiny, planted a seed.
To make a long story short, Kare became a state-certified SAR dog. Our training and callouts required us to talk to each other. “Search here,” I would tell her with my hands and my voice. “I found what you wanted me to look for!” she would say with her sit and bark, our trained alert.
It sounds simple, but that alert represented hundreds of hours of training, building mutual trust and respect. Kare literally depended on me for her life, especially when we were working or training in hazardous situations. Our bond and working relationship were on display wherever we worked. And just about everywhere we went, people expressed gratitude for us being there.
I often got questions, but they were almost always about Kare, not me. I was fine with that; she was my partner. And, if she wasn’t working, just about everyone asked if they could have a picture with her. If a picture is worth a thousand words, I think Kare wrote more than The Iliad and The Odyssey combined.
When the combined stress of my challenging job and callouts became too much for me (Kare didn’t know the seriousness of her work; she always thought of it as a fun game where she got treats for finding stuff), I retired from SAR and changed our focus to therapy-dog work. It was another facet of dog work about which I had no idea when I adopted Kare. But Destiny had her plans.
We became registered with Pet Partners, a nationally known organization that supports animal-assisted interventions. Kare did a lot of “talking” as a Pet Partner representative.
“Tell me a story,” she would say to residents when we visited a senior-care facility and she leaned in for a treat or a scritch. She liked to bring out memories.
“I hope you are going to be okay,” she would tell patients in the hospital emergency room as she nestled up to their chair and looked at them empathetically with her big brown eyes. “Maybe my soft fur and quiet demeanor can calm you, at least for a few minutes.”
“I think you’re doing a great job!” she would tell employees when we visited business offices for de-stress events. “You deserve a break to give me a belly rub.”
And her greatest message? “I’m going to help you through this,” when she snuggled with my daughter Erin as she went through chemotherapy. (Today, Erin is four-plus years cancer-free.)
So, that is my simple story about my wonderful dog. As you can see, Destiny had me square in her sights when she arranged an unplanned meeting with an unknown dog so we could have so many adventures. And I thank her every day.
I lost Kare in August 2020 on one of the harder days of my life. But the love and companionship she gave me during our 12 years together was worth any amount of grieving. Dogs can open our hearts and talk to us in many ways. All we have to do is listen.