Be the Light

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By: Jessica O’Connor

Walking into an unfamiliar veterinary clinic as the owner of a hunting dog can always be a little uncomfortable. My prior experiences have led me to feel the weight of judgment in the eyes of those who don’t understand this thing we do.

My dog, not feeling so well but demonstrating the true depth of the toughness running through his veins, walked into the emergency clinic calmly at my side as I was internally panicking. He’d never ridden in the front of the truck nor come inside until the night before, but he handled everything like a gentleman with a tail wag and amicable greeting for each dog and human inside the waiting room.

A stranger unbuckled his collar and fitted him with a slip lead before walking him away from me to the examination rooms. I couldn’t help realizing it was the first time anyone but me had ever held his lead. He turned to look at me, but obediently followed the tech-at that point I also realized I raised a truly good, sensible dog.

I waited for six hours alone in the waiting room. A well dressed lady waiting on a labradoodle to return from a routine appointment noticed the tears slipping down my face that I was trying to hide and asked me about my dog. She wanted to know more about what we did together, and after explaining that he was a fox dog she said, “You’re very proud of him. I can tell you love him very much.” Then she asked if she could say a prayer with me before she left. I appreciated that more than she knew.

Later, a stoic young vet delivered the news to me that what was happening with my dog could very well be the result of an aggressive cancer. The words were so unexpected that they took my breath away. Most unlike myself, I lost control of my emotions in front of a stranger.

When he returned to see how I had decided to proceed, I pulled out my phone to show the stone faced young man my boy when he was at his best-when he was flying. Me standing behind him with a smile from ear to ear after winning at field trials. Us lying in the grass together with my arms around him, my sweet friend almost appearing to smile at the camera.

The mask cracked. Tears creeped down the young vet’s cheeks as well. And in that moment I knew that he had realized this dog and I were not what he expected us to be. Instead of a hunter and a tool, we had a bond most “pet owners” could never understand. We had DONE things, accomplished things-together. Of course there was unspeakable love, but the tremendous sense of pride I felt for my Chief no doubt made us very much unlike his average patient.

We’ll travel this particular road together, my Chief and I, like the many others we’ve traveled in our seven years together. In the midst of feeling broken while fighting to remain optimistic, there’s a small joy in knowing we’re being the light for our community of sporting dog owners.

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