The first time I saw her I felt a connection, a bridge from my world to hers and I slowed my pace to watch her. It was the first time I had run in Foster's Park since moving to the city. My mind said keep the heart rate up; her eyes said notice me...don't look away.
I finished my five-mile run at the local coffee shop where I slipped onto a stool and glanced at the morning paper. The day was cold, gray and windy. I thought about her. She wasn't much to look at; she'd been neglected. Did she have a home, a place to get warm on this cold day, food to eat?
The waitress approached me, “Miss, can I get a hamburger to go? Make it two...plain.”
“Yes sir. Anything you say.” I knew she was flirting by the way she rubbed against me when she poured my coffee. I left her a good tip, perhaps that was all she was after.
Retracing my route back to the park, I chastised myself for getting involved. What was I thinking? I'm in a new town with a new job and the last thing I need is something more to do.
She was hard to find; I almost gave up before I spotted her. She was limping across a hiking trail and she stopped when she saw me. The closer I got, the more I realized her condition. She was so very dirty and her back left foot appeared to be injured. Life had not been good to her.
I sat on the cold ground and offered her some food. She took it from my hand, but when I reached out to touch her she backed away. Her black hair was matted, her eyes sad. She was grateful, yet dignified.
For awhile I sat and watched her as she lay a few feet from me, enjoying the company but not trusting me. When I stood to leave, she ran off down the trail.
The more the wind howled that night, the more I tossed and turned. By morning I had a plan of action that would ease my guilt. If she was still in the park I would try to get her into a dog crate and transport her to a local vet for evaluation and care. Someone would adopt her if she was healthy.
Getting her into the crate was a feat all its own, but once she was in the car she settled down. The vet said she was in bad shape. Clearly, she had been homeless for a long time. He found pellets under her skin where she had been shot, her back paw was badly cut, she had fleas and would need to be tested for heartworm.
I handed over my credit card and asked the vet to call me after he knew more. He called me later the same day. He said he could patch her up by cleaning and stitching the foot wound and grooming her. The heartworm test was negative. She was underweight and needed to be kenneled until she was stronger.
The next day I visited her. The vet had placed a name-card on her cage---PATCHES. She responded to me by wagging her tail, catching me completely by surprise. After several visits, she was showing a playful attitude and a happy face. At the end of two weeks the transformation was beyond expectation.
“Gabe, there's been some interest in adopting Patches. She's ready to leave the kennel.” The message was on my voice mail. I thought about it as I drove to the vet's.
Patches came home with me that day, a new beginning for both of us. I had a soul mate; her love and trust were deep in my heart. I marveled at her ability to forget and forgive. She ran with me, slept with me, watched TV with me, accepted my friends and made me a better man.
She taught me to see the beauty of each day, to live in the present and to never be bitter over yesterdays.
She passed away in my arms on a cold, rainy night seven years into our life together. I wept. I still weep. She left me wiser and blessed for having known her.
She gave me God's Greatest Gift---Unconditional Love.
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