He entered our lives fourteen years ago as a wiggling ball of fur leaving a trail of pee in his wake. We lived through his chewing, his digging, and his loving. He never lost his smile, and his tail, though it slowed in the last few months, never stopped wagging. (I always wondered how that tail could not hurt as it beat against the porch while he sat with us.)
Bear claimed love at first sight when he met my husband, Eddy. The bond was instantaneous and mutual. He was devoted as only a chocolate lab can be, and I often said that I learned the true meaning of the word ‘adore’ by watching Bear with Eddy. He would sit and stare with his whole heart in his eyes. Wherever Eddy was, that is where he wanted to be. Whatever Eddy was doing, he joined in.
When Eddy mowed the lawn, Bear followed the lawn mower just to be near him. If the truck cranked, Bear was ready to go. As Eddy completed other tasks in the yard, Bear was always close by keeping an eye on ‘his boy’.
Eddy worked diligently with Bear, training him in the tasks of bird hunting and in general good manners. For Bear it was a work of love. He wanted to please, and he never seemed happier than when he was working with Eddy.
Bear was a dog on the go. He was a fixture in the back of the white diesel truck, ears flapping as he enjoyed the breeze and exuded absolute joy in living. He rode in the boat when we fished, and he retrieved mullet when Eddy threw his net. One of his favorite outings was at the coast where he ran the shallows, sure he could catch the birds that frequented there.
Bear made friends everywhere he went. He would sit in the back of the truck at the local breakfast shop, where he often got a bit of sausage and biscuit. Eddy could place a bit of food on the side of the truck, and Bear would stare at it drooling until Eddy gave the command ‘yours’. Then it disappeared so fast you wondered if Bear even tasted it. It was the ultimate party trick, and Bear was always willing to perform for a bit of food.
We were his tribe, and he took his responsibilities seriously. He joined a scrappy cat when he came to live with us, and she was bigger than him at first. While the cat didn’t show weakness in our presence, we would often find her curled up with Bear on chilly evenings. When she began suffering the pains of old age, Bear would hunt her down to make sure she was taken care of at night. His bark was ferocious, and he frightened off more than one predator in the dark hours. After years of chasing the squirrels in the yard, he finally adopted a live and let live attitude toward them. The lizards never reached that status, though.
As the grandchildren were born, he adopted them as well. Always gentle. Always watching. He stayed close by.
Bear was an outdoor dog, and most of the time he was content with that, but he hated thunderstorms. When the lightning began, he wanted inside. He would lie on the rug inside the door, waiting for the storm to pass. He seemed to know that the rug was his place, and he stayed right there.
When Eddy began traveling for work, Bear grieved. He learned that Sunday was leaving time. At first, he would follow Eddy to the truck like he was telling him goodbye, but he gradually got to the point that he would stay on the porch. Farewells were just too painful. He could hear the truck returning, though, when it turned into the neighborhood a half mile away. Then he waited expectantly at the fence until Eddy walked in the yard.
Bear settled for me when Eddy was out of town. I was not his first pick, but I was definitely part of his tribe. At night, he would make soft woofs on the porch letting me know he was there. We had an understanding. We were both waiting for the same person.
I believe that God gives us special gifts in animals. They fully live each day, enjoying every adventure. They know how to totally relax. They play exuberantly. They love unconditionally. They care for their own. We can learn a lot from their example.
Bear lived a lifetime of memories. One time he ate an entire crop of cantaloupes, one at a time. I think he thought they were balls.
He hunted. He fetched. He fished. He ran. He rode. He went to church.
But, most of all, Bear loved. His life was a gift, and I will miss that.
James 1:17 – Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.