One dark, Thanksgiving Eve, we lost my daughter’s year-old puppy, on 40 acres of woods and fields behind my parent’s home. For one full year, Jennifer saved her money and dreamed of this dog. In one unguarded moment, the pup disappeared.
Prior to owning this puppy, which Jennifer named Kobi, ( a Japanese word that means “joy,”) our family lived with Labradors and a German Shepherd/Collie mix. The pain of eventually saying a permanent good-bye to our final lab, Johnathan Edwards, occurred about nine months after we changed jobs and homes, during Jennifer’s thirteenth year.
We adored Edwards, who prevailed with us through some difficult life transitions, steady, constant. When life is hard, there’s nothing quite like a peaceful, sizable dog, who isn’t frightened when you sling your arm around his neck and sob into his fur. When we discovered that our beloved boy suffered from congestive heart failure, and felt a great deal of pain, we needed to let him go.
His loss came on the heels of several other significant ones, and I decided, after three doggie good-byes, I couldn’t face it again. At the time, Ken’s 70-hour work weeks left him little time to be with Jennifer and I, let alone a dog and he deferred to my wishes to end our season of dogs.
Jennifer disagreed passionately. As an only child, she missed Edwards dearly. This became a source of contention between us until one day I said, “If owning a dog means this much to you, then pray and ask God to change my heart, and while you’re at it, save your money to buy one with a strong blood line.” (We lost a lab, young, due to a poor bloodline.)
God changed my heart. Jennifer saved her money, and we bought a new dog. Since we now lived in a much smaller home and yard, I insisted we downsize by at least 70 pounds yet find a breed not afraid of its own shadow and every fluttering leaf. This describes the breed of Shiba Inu to a tee. Diminutive in size they are still fiercely independent and courageous. Bred as small hunting dogs for the mountains of Japan, they are highly intelligent and frighteningly cunning.
Kobi entered our lives, and we realized that not only was her appearance nothing like our previous dogs, neither was her temperament. In the United States, you must possess a fenced in yard for this breed and NEVER let them off-leash outside a fence as they will chase down a scent or a sight of a woodland creature until they are so far gone as to not be able to ever return home. (Honestly, I don’t know how that all works in Japan, but this is what every Shiba breeder in the states will tell you. Hundreds of them wind up missing every year.)
Her quirky personality endeared her to us and we loved her whimsical ways once we learned how to reshape and manage her natural inclinations. Shibas believe that anything within their reach belongs to them and act accordingly. Therefore, Kobi snatched homework from the printer as soon as it came out the feed. If guests left their purses or briefcases on the floor, she pilfered the contents and carried items around the house like prized chew toys. Her first year with wrapped Christmas gifts didn’t entirely work out well. Even her bark didn’t fit with anything we ever knew about dogs, sounding more like a strangled yodel. Kobi made us laugh everyday and although her independent nature made obedience training more difficult, (some obedience schools will not even accept Shibas) she became a lovely little dog and fun companion for all of us.
Now, we come to the night we lost her on my parents’ property, which is bordered by miles of fields, woods and a busy country road. She slipped away as we entered the house, halfway in the back door, when we removed her leash. In that split second, she spied a rabbit in the cornfield and leaped away into the darkness.
Jennifer’s look of shock and fear expressed what we all knew. The chances of ever seeing Kobi again registered somewhere between slim and none. Ken and I sprinted into the field, hatless, gloveless, with no flashlights, for fear we would lose track of the sound of her jingling dog tags, which grew farther away by the second. The thick clouds that night, made it impossible to see anything beyond the circle of light emanating from the backdoor, including all the dips and rolls of the recently farrowed cornfield. Our pursuit became a series of stumbles and tumbles while we desperately tried to stay within hearing range of her telltale jingle.
Another significant trait of Shibas is that they are virtually uncatchable. They are one of the fastest dog breeds on earth. When speed is combined with an impish nature, these dogs interpret your retrieval attempts as a wonderful game of keep away. Obedience training is vital. Your only hope with a loose Shiba is that they will choose to come to you. Only a year old, the command, “Come,” still meant zippo to Kobi.
I don’t know how long Ken and I ran around that field but at some point, Ken, ahead of me by now, could see the outline of the woods, along the river, coming at us as we ran. Sheer panic filled him as he contemplated all the woodland creatures within, just waiting for a lively game of tag with a little dog. Finding her in deep woods that ran for many miles would be nearly impossible.
Ken plunged into the dense trees, still following Kobi’s sound. Throughout the time Ken and I ran around the field, we both kept crying for God to help us, protect us and stop Kobi which helped us keep track of one another. As I came to the end of my strength, my frozen hands and ears started to voice opinions and despair overtook me. I stopped to breathe, pull up my hood, and warm my hands in my pockets. I listened for Ken but heard nothing at all, no sound of Ken or Kobi nor even the sounds of cornstalks blowing in the cold, North wind. All previous noises simply ceased.
I fell to my knees, part exhaustion, part prayer, and cried out to God one more time. Just as I heard a crashing sound in the woods ahead of me Ken’s voice rang out in the silent night. “I’ve got her! I’ve got her!” “Head back to the house and let Jennifer know I’ve got her, okay?” He shouted, breathlessly, joyfully.
Only when we re-united at my parents’ home did we hear Ken’s miraculous story of how he came to catch Kobi. When he plunged into the woods, he could hear her tags jangling, changing directions at a high speed. He presumed she’d found a nest of some hapless rabbits or woodchucks to chase around the woods. Then, abruptly, the same silence I experienced, fell on the woods also. The lack of Kobi’s jingle convinced him that she’d run out of his hearing and we’d most likely never see her again.
In that desperate moment, the moon broke through the tree canopy like a searchlight, illuminating a small clearing. Kobi sat motionless, in the center of the moonlight. Disbelieving, Ken inched towards her. She sat peacefully, staring at him with a quizzical expression, until he reached her and picked her up, tucking her under his arm. As soon as he did, the moonlight disappeared.
In the ensuing 14 years of Kobi’s life, never again did she sit so still off leash and allow someone to pick her up as Ken did that night, not even when she became blind in one eye. He is certain that God sent an angel to detach her from whatever she’d been chasing and hold her tightly until Ken arrived. Instead of a holiday season tainted by a loss, it became enriched by a miracle.
I don’t know what or whom you’ve lost that you are grieving this Christmas season. God doesn’t always perform miracles the way we’d like, judging by the empty seats around many holiday tables this year. The sorrows of this world sometimes threaten to eclipse one of the primary truths of Christmas; Jesus came as a babe to be our Emmanuel, God with us. He cares passionately, about everything that matters to us, even little lost dogs. Just as he stayed by my side and Ken’s in the field, helping us to get back up, fall after fall, he will do the same for you. He may send a miracle your way, to restore a prodigal child, lost job, broken relationship, etc. as he did for us, but even if he doesn’t, his love and compassion for you remain constant and sustaining.
You might feel like life has become a farrowed field of upheaval, strife, disappointment, heartbreak and unwanted changes. He is with you. He is with you. He is with you, always. He will take you through your challenges, sending goodness and mercy to dog your footsteps. God is always about redeeming what’s been lost. That’s why he sent Jesus, our Emmanuel.