We told ourselves that there was simply no excuse for this behavior.
But we were wrong.
Is there anything in the world more disagreeable than being kept awake when one is tired, needing sleep, and already in bed late at night? Convinced that there was not, I rolled over again, adjusting the covers, while trying to find a reason not to start screaming. This was simply ridiculous.
My husband grumbled sleepily, “I wonder what’s wrong with the all the dogs?”
I may have replied something along the lines of, “They’re just stupid! They don’t know any better!” Whatever I said, I was too tired and angry to be thinking very clearly.
For over an hour, every single dog in the neighborhood, including our own dog, Fluffy, had been barking almost non-stop. There had to be a way to shut them up once and for all. If only we knew what it was!
Well, they all couldn’t be hungry. Fluffy had been given a generous serving of dog food earlier in the day. Plus, she probably had managed to rustle up some tasty leftovers after our own mealtimes. Hunger was a problem that Fluffy did not often allow herself to endure for long.
Except for that one time. Most of my life, I had prided myself on being a somewhat responsible person. I would certainly never—at least, never on purpose!—withhold food from anyone in my care whom I knew to be genuinely hungry. Yet, during the summer that my sister-in-law and her husband invited our older two daughters, Lizzie and Rachel, to accompany them and their family to Disney World in California, something happened, possibly to my brain, and definitely to Fluffy’s stomach. While the girls were on vacation, I had somehow forgotten to feed the dog on a regular basis. If Fluffy had not already built up a formidable fat layer, things might have gotten ugly before the girls returned home to reinstate her regular mealtimes.
Apparently, before they left, Rachel had a slight premonition that something terrible along these lines was about to happen. Fearing that good old Mom might not be a person she could rely on to remember to feed her dog, Rachel reminded me several times before they left. In fact, her final parting words to me may have been, “Don’t forget to feed my dog, Mom!” Like I would forget something as important as that! But several times that week, I did forget. And not by myself, either! When the girls arrived home ten days later, Rachel walked in to the kitchen to find a completely empty dog food dish—a phenomenon rarely to be seen when Fluffy was satisfied with her food intake—and a dog that was noticeably thinner than she remembered.
“What happened to my dog?” Rachel shrieked, at not exactly low volume. “Did you forget to feed her while I was gone?” I tried to explain to her that Dad, Lacey, Damien and I had not forgotten to feed Fluffy every single day they were gone. Only some of the days, and probably not consecutive ones.
“You could have killed her, Mom!” she ranted, stomping over to the canister of dog food resting about an inch from the empty dish.
After that, I started glancing into the dog food bowl daily, refilling it myself when Rachel and the others forgot.
Whereas Rachel and Fluffy may have never forgotten that time, eventually, the trauma of it began to fade. Meanwhile, Fluffy redoubled her efforts to find food around the house for herself. Just in case.
But that wasn’t the problem tonight. Fluffy had been given dog food. And if other kinds of food had not also managed to find their way into her welcoming stomach to join the yucky dog food already there, well it was just too late to be bothered with that at this late hour! The fat layer that Fluffy had lived on for a few days several summers back had since been amply replaced, and it was time for us all to get some sleep! Right now!
But maybe Fluffy needed something else. Could she need to go outside? Please, doggie, don’t need to go outside right now! I thought. She had already been outside right before my husband and I went to bed. On a good night, she would sleep quietly by my side of the bed all night, and we could all get a good rest. On a bad night, she sometimes woke me up two or three times, usually interrupting the only sound, deep sleep I got all night.
Not only was the interrupted sleep a problem, I hated to have to wander the dark hall alone, mosey cautiously through the kitchen, trying not to trip over the dining table and chairs, then have to open the door into the dark garage to let Fluffy out the back door. I am not ashamed to tell you that for most of my life I have been afraid of the dark, and with good reason: bad things happen in the dark. Staying out of the dark is a very good thing, in my estimation.
By this time, Fluffy had quit barking, but she was still alert, glancing nervously toward the windows, then back at me. Yet, when I called, “Outside, Fluffy?” she looked away, refusing to move.
Things were beginning to look suspicious. If Fluffy had been fed and no longer needed—or, stranger still, refused—to go outside, then what could possibly be the problem?
The other barking dogs couldn’t all be hungry at the same time. I had seen some of their dog dishes, and, like Fluffy’s food bowl these days, those other dishes were usually fairly full of dog food. If, however, any of those other barking dogs were uncomfortable to the extremity that they might be about to, as I described the condition to Fluffy, “potty their pants”, well, most of them were already outside. They could choose any spot they wanted as a bathroom.
It had to be something else. Now that I thought of it, sometimes a person would come into the neighborhood that the dogs simply couldn’t stand. Could one of those people be out at this hour? In our exclusive, gated community, a series of gardeners and other grounds people came and went on a regular basis. Some of them evoked a fiercer reaction from the dogs than I thought might have been warranted at the time. But they usually didn’t stay long, and the dogs soon calmed down immediately after they had left.
By this point, I thought I had covered every possible disturbance that could have set all the ever-vigilant neighborhood dogs on high alert. A few of them had quit barking, and those that continued did so only sporadically. The anger I felt earlier was beginning to fade, replaced by twinges of unexpected fear. Without realizing it, I had begun to pray over and over for God to protect our family through this uncomfortable night.
In the morning, my husband I discovered that we had had good reason to be afraid: a bear had wandered into our neighborhood and spent the night there, to be captured only after the sun rose. Although no one had been hurt, many of the neighbors had been frightened. Concerned for our safety, the head of the neighborhood watch had immediately typed up and printed reports of the bear incident, then hand-delivered them to every single house in our neighborhood, where they were read, studied, then memorized. The report not only detailed the bear visit, but also outlined a plan for avoiding unnecessary bear contact. Because it was so unexpected and unusual, I held onto my copy of the bear report for well over a year before tossing it.
Later that day, when the children were talking to some of their friends, they brought us even more information: the bear had been seen at close range sleeping either by or under the edge of one of the neighbor’s front porch.
More news drifted in throughout the rest of the day. “It was a yearling bear,” my husband, Sergei, told me. “Having trouble finding its own food in the mountains, it came down here to forage through all the trash cans. It’s kind of unavoidable if you think about it. We live on the intersection of game trails for both bear and mountain lions. It was only a matter of time before one wandered over here.”
As if these things were not already enough to keep neighborhood tongues wagging for weeks, the bear left us a final parting gift before his removal: he had left a trail of very clear, well-defined tracks running through the park close to our house. At the time of the visit, some of the mud at the edge of the park had solidified to an-almost clay-like consistency, which captured the tracks, then dried beautifully into a monument that took several months to fade back into invisibility. The children and I walked there often, studying the tracks and marveling at the size of a young creature that could already leave such a big footprint.
We also started praying more before leaving the house, and taking fewer walks after dark.
The day after the bear’s visit, my husband and I realized that on the previous night, we had been making some unproductive assumptions, which, in turn, led us to be asking the wrong questions. Instead of asking ourselves, “What’s wrong with the dogs?” we should have been asking, “What do the dogs know that we don’t know? Is there something dangerous outside our front door?”
The next time all the neighborhood dogs were on high alert, we would tell ourselves that they were not barking nonstop just to hear the sounds of their own voices because this time they had been trying to protect us from a very legitimate danger. They had compromised their reputations in order to save our lives, and, by the grace of God, it had worked. We would always be thankful for that.
by Gwennon, written on Christmas Break 2012
Psalm 34:4 “I sought the LORD, and he heard me, and delivered me from all my fears.”
Isn’t it great to know that God is protecting us, even when we don’t know we’re in danger?
Praying for you to see the many ways God protects you daily,