Is there a dog heaven?

Imagining there is gives comfort to my daughter who just lost her beloved Oliver, a handsome and loving German Shepherd who succumbed to cancer. On his 12th year of age, and diagnosed only a few weeks ago, Ollie seemed to be his usual determined self, loving the walks on the Atlanta Beltline a few blocks from where my daughter, her husband and their three German Shepherd dogs reside. As soon as my daughter and her husband (the doggies’ Mommy and Daddy) heard of the shocking news, they decided to give Ollie the best time of his life and took him on his favorite activity, walking every day, allowing him to lead them to places he favored. His best was Ladybird. How did Mommy and Daddy know? Every time they walked by that place, Ollie would pull them to that direction. Ladybird is a dog friendly restaurant that offers delicious grilled meat. Furthermore, the staff, servers and customers are all so very friendly, and Oliver basked in the attention. But who wouldn’t pay notice to Ollie who always looked regal, long ears straight up, and a poise that showed so much aplomb. Best of all, he was quite friendly himself and captivated with generous smiles.

At 5 a.m. of Friday, I received a heartbreaking call from my daughter. Oliver had passed. While the vet’s diagnosis of two weeks before indicated that Ollie could last weeks or months, losing him in two weeks was traumatic. If Mommy and Daddy sorely miss him, so do his two sisters, Marley and Daisy. After all, Oliver was the oldest of the three pet dogs, protective leader of the batch and looked up to by his two doting sisters. He was Big Brother.

Though Ollie got the royal treatment every day especially since the diagnosis, his passing was still heartbreaking. I could almost hear my daughter’s tears for a pet dog that had become integral to the family, one so loved and who loved back so well. I grieved with her. I’m the doggies’ “Grandmama”. And grandmama dearly remembers Oliver’s ways, his pranks, and his attentive protective nature. I remember him watching guardedly while seated on the tiled floor beside where I stood by the kitchen sink, with his deep hazel eyes focused on me. He would not follow his Mommy’s call to go upstairs for bedtime until I finished washing the dishes or my work in the kitchen was done. When I turned off the kitchen lights to go upstairs, then he would bound up the stairs and station himself on the landing like a regular sentinel.

When my late husband and I visited my daughter and her husband and stayed in their home, Oliver would wake us up in the morning with gentle licks on the cheeks. Somehow, Ollie understood that grandmama preferred soft cuddles instead of licks, and so that’s what he gave me. The housekeeper loved Oliver for his handsome and “gentlemanly” ways. She would ask him to give her his paw, and together, they would waltz around the room, with Oliver stretched upright and his front paws resting in the housekeeper’s hands. That dance, always curiously delightful and amusing, made me think of beauty and the beast, with the lovable beast turning into a stately prince. Of course, Ollie stayed a handsome German Shepherd prince, and that was enough for everyone.

Ah, the young Oliver was rambunctious, often bounded over the patio walls like a horse, and sprinted back and forth over the backyard hill as though in a race. What often triggered that frenzy was Daddy’s throwing the monstrous toy bone to the far corner of the fence, and Ollie would rush for it and bring it back, holding it in his mouth like a prize. He was adventurous and would try to escape to the outside. Many times, Daddy went looking for him and would find him in the company of a kind neighbor who tried to keep him at bay while waiting for the owner to claim him. And once, Daddy rushed to his side on the street after being hit by a car. That sight broke his Daddy’s heart, who carried heavy Oliver in his arms and took him to a vet to be examined. To Daddy’s and Mommy’s relief, there was no major injury to Ollie who recovered quickly and was manageable for a while, until the next mischief, which was again to adventure outdoors. Whenever we came into and out of my daughter’s and her husband’s home, we had to be super careful in opening and shutting the door to make sure Ollie didn’t escape out.

Of course, Oliver got old and became more docile, but always remained spirited. His attention, faithfulness and love for the family stayed steadfast and strong. His handsome, regal look and good nature never waned.  That night before Ollie passed, Mommy lay by his side on his cushioned bed, gently stroking his back and whispering assurances of love.  She fell asleep with her arm on his back.  And when she awoke a few hours after, she felt no movement under her arm.  Reality struck hard.

During that 5 a.m. call from my daughter, in between sobs and tear jerks, she ruminated over Oliver strutting on the colored rainbow bridge to dog heaven –- and I said yes, he is.

I do not know if there indeed is a rainbow bridge that connects to dog heaven, but I would like to think there is … or a dog heaven where God’s dogs and other animals play their jubilant games and delight in the presence of the Maker. For those that we love and lose – we conjure beautiful pictures that lighten the burden of grief … and transform the pain and the sorrow into joyful memories that live in the heart forever.

Linda P. Jacob

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