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Bruce and Kate Dahlman, serving with Africa Inland Mission
August 1, 2015 4:09 pm
Published in: Good

“I have a little shadow; she goes everywhere with me….”*

We have an 11-year-old dog, Chloe, that we’ve had since she was about six weeks old. She was a present to my daughter and me back in 2004 when we were living in Kenya and down to our last child. Kaari, missing her two older brothers (in college in the U.S.), had turned to me one day in July and said, simply, “Mom…we need a dog”.

Lots of expatriates living in Kenya have dogs, for lots of different reasons. Usually they tend to be on the larger side, like a German shepherd, perhaps; or, an exotic brand like the Rhodesian ridgeback (Rugongo) we were privileged to “babysit” for a year while her owners were on home assignment. In fact, dog-sitting other families’ dogs had been the norm for us. In addition to the ridgeback, over the years we had also welcomed a border collie (Max), a golden retriever (Jenna), and one sweet old black Labrador (Cinder), who had been passed around among several families before she got to us (and stayed, faithfully, until she died).

We were also once “adopted” by a cat (Whisper), whose owners had left and who, perhaps, had escaped the family that she had been given to, if there had been one (we never found out). Not really being “cat people” (because of allergies for two of us), she nevertheless determined that we were her new family. As we seemed to have little choice in the matter, she stayed, and became dearly loved; until her cat “nine lives” (and then some) ran out (note to future Kenya ex-pats: unless you can keep them totally inside, cats are probably not the best idea…).

So, when Kaari asked for a dog in her junior year of high school, I was approachable; but did not really relish the thought of getting a “big dog”. Big dogs meant big vet bills, big food purchases, and big…”everything” else. And, having lived in a “pass-the-dog-around” community for a few years, I knew that it was sometimes quite hard to find the right family to watch your dog when it was your turn to leave for those sometimes lengthy home assignments.

However, we simply couldn’t resist the picture of a cute, wispy-looking puppy on the “Notice Board” at Sarit Centre (in Nairobi) one day. The adorable little puffball depicted there appeared to have “baby zebra stripes”, black alternating with white, and an extravagant plume of a curly tail. The price was right, and so was the timing. And so, we found ourselves heading over to check him out…

Mr. Zebra-Stripe was enchanting; however, he was also very rambunctious, and actually, a little bitty rascal. Two things that were not exactly what I had had in mind. So, we picked out his sweet-tempered sister instead, who, although lacking the stripes, was just as adorable, and had endearing, cheetah-like tear marks” of black from the inner corners of both eyes downwards across each side of her face…

Eleven years later, she is still with us, cheetah-stripes fading with age, having made the trip across the ocean in 2010 with me to our northern MN home. (And that is another whole 30-minute story in itself; it’s a miracle we both survived that ordeal…a trip, I might add, which will only happen once in her lifetime). She is now, of course, my dog, with the daughter long-gone, first to college, then career, then career + marriage.

MYDC0756.JPG

Adult Chloe

And, I am her person. She absolutely adores me, and is happiest when she can be where I am at all times. When I get up in the morning, she is there, on the bed or right next to it. Like a shadow, she follows me: into the bathroom, down the stairs for coffee, up the stairs to get dressed, back down for breakfast, etc. All day long, day in, day out.  When I go outside, she might whine and carry on if I don’t let her out with me. And when I do come back, she will happily run to greet me from wherever she has been, waiting and watching, for my return.

If I have been gone for an extended time, she will be ecstatic, sometimes barking, sometimes weaving herself in and out between my legs, rubbing her face all over them, with salty-doggy- messy-licky kisses. Tail and whole body manic with wagging and wriggling. Sometimes this occurs even if I’ve been gone only a few hours.

When we return to Kenya fulltime later this year, Chloe will move in with Kaari and Zach. They will love and care for her well, and for this I am truly grateful. But it will be hard for me to leave her; in fact, I’m thinking that it will be much harder than leaving my adult kids, who will at least understand where we are going, and why.

Chloe won’t. From past, shorter trips we’ve taken to Kenya, I know she will be devastated and depressed for days, even weeks. And I will miss her, too; more than I can say.

Dogs have always been important in my life. No one loves you like your dog: totally; unconditionally; no strings attached. And God, in His wisdom, has used them to teach me various important spiritual truths over the years (see 200307 Lessons from Max, “Dahlman Diaries”).

What I have learned from sweet Chloe is this: true love is

  • Trusting
  • Expectant
  • Vigilant
  • Steadfast
  • Faithful
  • True
  • No strings attached.

A lot like the way that the Father loves us. Tangible, furry expressions of unconditional love.   Good examples of how He would want us to love others.

Thank you, Chloe, for personifying these few small, but incredibly poignant, truths about dogs…(and ok, perhaps cats, too).

*(“A Child’s Garden of Verses”, Robert Louis Stevenson; a paraphrase)

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