Remembering Our Family Dog
January 11, 2012
“The Best Dog Ever”
Can you guess the best dog ever?
I bet that you can not.
Because it is MY dog.
MY dog is the best dog ever.
My dog’s name is Jingle Belle Ritchey.
This afternoon our family crowded in a vet’s exam room to say goodbye to one of our family members (albeit she was also of the canine family.) Jingles came to our home Christmas morning 10 years ago, jiggling in a wrapped box whose lid lifted off to our 2 year old, Hadiah’s, delight. Hannah was 6 months old then. I have often looked back on that first year with Jingles as holding one of the worst decisions of my life- getting a puppy who needed a wild place to run, while we were living in the suburbs, Dasen was in surgery residency, my Dad was fighting with us about his dementia, I was working, and caring for my 2 girls full-time and my Dad part-time. What was I thinking?
Yet today, I look back on that time and think... that was one of the best decisions of our lives. Even though she ate all our Christmas presents one year, destroyed my dining room chairs, chewed my cell phone, and once took off attached to our baby stroller with my baby in it...she turned out to be a delight. And I am so delighted that for 10 months before she died, that we were able to all move to a farm and see her really thrive. She had herded for years, sometimes it was the vacuum or lawn mower, and often she herded our girls. Our Australian Cattle Dog needed a job, and the job she took most seriously was taking care of her girls.
Once when our family was on a walk with 3 young children, our girls got too far ahead of us. We let Jingles off the leash and said, “Go get ‘em!” She sprinted, circled them and pushed them toward us while nosing their ankles. She had learned the first few months that although her breed is also called “Blue Heeler”, she was not to actually bite at their heels as her instincts directed her. I knew that if the girls were outside playing, and if any strangers, or men came around, Jingles would not let them near. She would alert me with barking and genuinely scare off anyone who came near without my permission.
Her first few years, many people were afraid of her... some neighbors up the street who were twice herded on their bikes, the mailman and meter reader. Yet I knew she would never bite anyone unless she were defending her family, which happened one night- at least from her perspective. One night, around 2 AM, a stranger came into our house without knocking or greeting me. This “Stranger” was actually someone I had known years before, yet Jingles or the girls had never met them. Why they entered without even knocking, especially when our dog was growling at them, I still don’t know. But they pushed right on, opening the door with Jingles guarding and growling. When they didn’t leave, Jingles nipped their hand off the doorknob. There was no depth to the bite, but it was enough to let us all know, she meant business.
Moving to a farm presented new challenges to Jingles. So much room to run and move, yet she stayed near us. She loved to bark at the horses while we were working with them- it always seemed like a wild attempt to seem useful to me. Once when our little, fat miniature, Prancer Fatso Hotrod Ritchey, got loose, Jingles barked like crazy and usefully herded him into the corral. Once Jingles was stepped on by our big Tennessee Walker as she tried to herd him out in the field. That didn’t happen twice. The other major challenge to Jingles were the chickens. She didn’t pay attention to them much for months, until one day, chaos broke out with a pony cart wreck, and Jingles felt the chaos and multiplied it. That was the day she ate Elle’s beloved pet chicken, Goldilocks. There was much crying that day. She went on to kill one more chicken after that, before we vowed to never let Jingles and the chickens in contact again.
God took care of Jingles when our family went to Africa for 6 months, and to Europe for another 3 weeks. He provided care for her through other caring people, for which we are still deeply grateful. Returning to Jingles validated that we indeed had finally come back to home base. She provided stability to our family, consistency, unfading love, affection, protection, and even bonding. She was the first dog we ever had together as “our family.” Dasen and I never had a pet jointly owned and chosen like Jingles, and the girls have never known any other dog as their own.
Over Thanksgiving and New Year’s Jingles practiced hospitality like the rest of us. Often when friends would visit our farm, they would bring their dog, and we all, including Jingles liked it that way. She seemed fine over New Year’s, but over the following days, she stopped eating and got weaker and weaker. After a visit to the vet this week, we found she had a large mass in her abdomen, probably in her spleen, and her liver wasn’t functioning well either. We were given a recommendation of a surgery. Dasen and I decided to have a family meeting to decide together what to do. With complete unison, we agreed that even though resources were available to give her surgery, that we would choose not to do it. We agreed to donate the money we would have spent on her surgery to the “poor fund” at the hospital in Cameroon, West Africa. There are family members and patients who live there on the lawn and are asked not to leave until their bill is paid. They put their lives on hold and try to work for that hospital, or find other work nearby, which is difficult to do. I was so pleased with our girls for seeing beyond themselves to remember the poor as Jesus said.
So we celebrate the gift God gave us of Jingles. She was a gift of fun and companionship. Thank you God for her life and for knowing our future and how she would fit in it so completely. We like what You’ve done in our lives, from the big things like Eternal Life and Peace, to the more nitty gritty parts, like giving us this exuberant, speckled, herding hunk of love.