Today as our nation remembers the tragedy of 9/11 we honor the many fallen, and we salute the first responders who risked their lives to do what they could for their fellow man. Those first responders included approximately 350 search and rescue dogs who enabled a torn country to retrieve their loved ones. All of those brave men, women, and canines deserve our never-ending respect. They deserve the statues and memorials that remind us of their great sacrifice for people they did not know. They loved those strangers enough to go forward into chaos while most of us would have run from the danger.
As I contemplate that love today I think of the many service animals that on a daily basis enable the people they love to live a happier, more fulfilling life. Service animals for the blind, the deaf, the disabled, the cancer patients, the PTSD sufferers, the autistic children, the diabetics, the children in hospitals all across this country, the paralyzed veterans, etc. This list could go on and on. These animals give so much more than we would have dreamed possible fifty years ago. No amount of praise is too much for their contribution to the lives they have grown to love and protect.
I read several articles this morning about dogs who have saved their families from fire, tornadoes, floods, attacking animals of many species including other dogs. For the families blessed with the devotion of these heroes, life will never be the same. So many of these brave dogs died in their selfless acts of courage, and some suffered disabilities for the remainder of their lives. Those families will pass the stories of their amazing dogs down through the generations and they will never be forgotten.
My own life has been touched by several gallant canines that will forever hold their place in my heart and in my family’s history. As a teenager my family loved a stray dog that became an icon to not only my family but the entire neighborhood. Bertha was a mixed breed that grew hair like a sheep waiting to be sheared. So she often appeared to be a big bundle of hairy matts that could never be brushed out. She walked the concrete fence in front of our home and the neighbors and visitors to the neighborhood soon came to expect to see her lounging on our brick wall. Twice during my late teenage years Bertha corralled my young sister and prevented her from running to the street by sitting on her or pinning her to the porch.
As an adult I loved a beautiful German Shepherd Dog that came between me and strangers that would not heed my request to leave our country property. She barked, she growled, and eventually she chased off the dangers that she knew frightened me. Sasha was my guardian for many years, and I loved her like one of my own children. Now I have Jake and his giant majestic appearance ensures my safety not only in my home but on walks around our neighborhood. He is truly a gentle giant until he senses my fear, then he becomes a force to be reckoned with that no one has felt confident in challenging.
Most of us have a story about a dog that showed amazing gallantry in our lives. These stories are told over and over and they mark that hero’s place in our lives. But what about the everyday routines of our lives that go untold? How many of us know a senior citizen that is saved everyday from loneliness by a faithful dog? How many of us know the comfort of coming home after a tough day to a happy dog that doesn’t care about the world outside? How many of us have a furry baby that lies at the end of our beds when we don’t feel well, or cuddles against us when we cry?
I listened this morning to Alan Jackson’s beautiful memorial song “Where Were You When the World Stopped Turning?” He speaks of God’s gifts to us and how love is the greatest of those gifts. For me, and for so many people I speak with each day, that love comes in the form of a four-pawed “baby” that lights up our hearts each day with the unconditional love we all crave. On September 11, 2001 I was sitting on my bed, with my dogs cuddled close around me as the tears fell. I watched in horror the events of that morning and my babies comforted me with all the love they had. That love proved enough to help me get through that horrible day. Heroes indeed!