Luke is a mini Australian shepherd who showed up one day and never left. He was a stray who needed a home and my son was a boy grieving his dog’s terminal cancer. So Luke stayed.
During the day, he was the perfect companion for my son. They explored and romped and played. He was up for any game, but there was one thing he would not do. He would not sleep in my son’s room. We tried so many times, coaxed him with food and treats and even tried just locking him in the room. By day, he was my son’s constant companion, but the night belonged to him. He patrolled the property, barked at the coyotes and kept back the creatures that would do us or our livesock harm. He knew his purpose in life and he fulfilled it with the utmost faithfulness.
And then he went blind.
The blindnes has not seemed to hinder him. He still navigates our property at a full run. He plays with the other dogs, follows the children to do chores and does a complete 360 in the air to greet us when we get home. He is happy and full of life — until the sun goes down. As the sun sets, I call him in.
A blind dog does not need to be chasing coyotes.
When I call, he comes obediently, but it as if the life drains out of him each evening. His head drops. His shoulders sag. His stumpy little tail loses its wag. But in he comes, unsure of what to do with himself.
Late in the evening, sometimes, I will notice him lift his head from his cushion behind the rocking chair. His ears perk up for a moment, and then it is like he remembers and the ears drop, he places his head back on his paws and lets out a long sigh. A moment later, the other dogs hear it, run to the door and bark to be let out. But Luke no longer gets up from his spot. He knows I won’t let him out, anyway. There are coyotes near and I have barred him from his purpose.
“Oh, Luke,” I say in empathy and offer him a treat. I know he won’t take it, but I offer it, hoping that maybe, someday, he will forgive me.
I wish I could tell him he still has a purpose. A higher purpose, even.
When he gets disoriented and walks into a wall, I’ll hear one of my children call him softly. “Lukie . . . here, Lukie. Over here . . . ” And they keep talking until he turns, follows their voice and finds the stairs or the chair or the coolness of the bathroom floor. They have learned where he wants to go and he has learned to trust that low voice to get him there.
When he sulks behind the chair, my four year old will gently take his head in his small hands and exclaim, “Oh, Lukie!” and sit there stroking Luke until he lays his head down in my son’s lap.
And when the children play in the front room, they talk to Luke to let him know where they are at. They tap on the floor to move him out of their way or move their games somewhere that gives him space.
Luke is teaching them to think outside of themselves. He is teaching them to put someone else’s needs above their own desires. He is teaching them compassion.
And that’s not something just any animal can do.