Meet Cosmo. He’s a Greater Swiss Mountain dog.
My wife Clara and I are not particularly wealthy people. Just recently we took out a debt consolidation loan which helped us pay off several bills featuring high interest rates that had been nagging us for a long time. We obtained a fairly low interest rate on the consolidation loan and were looking forward to being able to having a little money at the end of the month instead of having too much month at the end of the money. That all changed over a weekend two months ago.
Late on a Saturday evening, my granddaughter Aryanna and her fiancée Andy posted on Facebook asking people to pray for Cosmo, their dog. Clara gave Aryanna a call and found out that Cosmo had swallowed a sock and was currently in an animal hospital awaiting emergency surgery. The vets were looking for $5000. Then the fee dropped to $4500, which they wanted before they proceeded. The good news? The doctors were prepared to perform the operation even in lieu of getting paid. The bad news? If my granddaughter didn’t pay the tab in full the dog might very well be re-homed. The additional bad news? Aryanna and her fiancé were completely cash-strapped.
Another family member offered to pay $3000 worth of the veterinary fee. That left a $1500 balance. Over the years, my wife and I have gone through quite a bit of money bailing out various family members. My wife is the generous one and I just go along with her generosity. Over the past few years we have stood firm letting others know we simply are no longer (I’m not sure we ever were!) in a financial position that makes gift giving feasible.
Then, I started thinking about the message I try to convey in Lance: A Spirit Unbroken—that of stepping up to the plate when a canine is in need. I also give a PowerPoint presentation to public groups entitled In Defense of Dogs in which I ask people to do what they can to help dogs in need. Cosmo was totally dependent on humans to bail him out of his life-threatening situation (there was talk of having to remove part of his intestine). I was faced with a situation demanding me to literally put my money where my mouth is.
I made up my mind. I called Care Credit and then the vet, promising to pay the $1500 as soon as I obtained a new card (I’d lost the old one).
The operation was performed and was a complete success—Cosmo even still has his original intestine!
Yesterday I blurted out to Clara: “If it had been money for rent or a car payment, no way! A dog is another matter!”
P.S. In the photos clockwise from top left, Cosmo prior to the” incident”, then Cosmo post-op. The third photo shows Cosmo with my granddaughter’s son. He suffers from autism and Cosmo has been invaluable in helping him get out of his shell. I can only imagine how the sudden disappearance of Cosmo would have negatively impacted my grandson.
Early in the process of writing Lance: A Spirit Unbroken, I joined a critiquing group. It was the single best thing I could have done to improve the final product. Subjecting my work to others’ criticism wasn’t easy for me, but better to learn from fellow writers before publishing, than learn the hard way from readers after publishing. In those early critiquing sessions, I was told to do two things: get rid of the big words and write less formally. The former was relatively easy to accomplish; the latter required a leap of faith on my part but I'm confident the book became a lot more conversational by the time it got published.
Along the way, one of my fellow critiquers suggested that I make Lance a talking dog. Other members of the group rolled their eyes, but he was dead serious. I thought about his suggestion, but not for too long. To do such a thing would have changed the trajectory and the mood of Lance’s story and, in my mind, diminished the serious purpose I had for writing the book. That purpose was to raise awareness re: animal maltreatment and, hopefully, inspire the reader to action.
Though Lance and I did not have oral conversations (except for the occasional bite!), I feel there were times when he and I communicated mentally, beyond his obeying a command or understanding words like “treat” or “hike.” For example, not once, but twice, he escaped from his abusive owners’ property and showed up on my doorstep. Wasn’t that a silent cry for help?
In the book, Lance occasionally "talks" to me, not in quotes but in italics. I’ve wondered at times if a reader might find my communication with Lance a stretch, but so far no one has commented to that effect.
How about you? Do you have “conversations” with your dog? What has your dog “told” you?
Dog Who Helps Little Girl Walk Again
Walter Stoffel is a substance abuse counselor and GED teacher in correctional facilities. When not behind bars, he likes to read, travel, work out and watch bad movies. Major accomplishment : He entered a 26.2-mile marathon following hip replacement surgery and finished—dead last. The author currently lives with his wife Clara, their dog Buddy (another rescue), and cat Winky (yet another rescue).
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