Duke’s Story – Hell to Heaven; A Tribute
Hi, my name is Duke and I am an eleven year old white German Shepherd. This is my story.
My first master was a young man who convinced his mother that he could properly care for me. As long as he was with me, my life was OK; perhaps not the best, as my owner like most young folk, spent a lot of time away from home and away from me. Still, when we were together, I knew I was loved and cared for.
My young master saw to it that I had good food, fresh water from time to time and a dog house of my own. True, the toweling that he put in for my bed wasn’t changed often and in the winter, it was often wet and cold but he tried. He didn’t brush me much, but did brush and bathe me enough that I had some self-respect. He also made sure that my injections and vet visits were relatively up to date.
My only real problem was my fear of thunderstorms and not being with him when they came. His mother would yell at me to be quiet if I barked or howled from fear. If my master was at home, he would let me come inside the home and we would cuddle in his room until the storm was over. Sometimes, if the storm was really bad and I was really afraid, my master would let me lie next to him on his bed…OH, that was Heavenly! The bed was soft and warm and I could lie right next to him, cuddling up as close as I could get and he would calm my fears with loving hands!
Then, when I was 3 years old, my master moved out of the home, leaving me for his mother and sister to care for because his apartment manager wouldn’t allow pets. OH, how my life changed then! His mother went and got a chain and fastened me to my doghouse. I couldn’t run around in the yard like I used to do and she only fed and watered me when she thought about it. I wasn’t brushed or bathed and vet visits were few and far between.
When I was 6 years old, some youngsters came down the alley behind the garage and I barked at them, they came in the yard and hit me in the head with a baseball bat, then they ran off, laughing that they had “taught that damn dog a lesson.” For the next three days I hurt and no one came to look at me until my master happened to come home. When he saw me, he took me to the vet immediately but it was too late and I had lost my sight in my left eye.
The last time his mother took me to the vet was during the summer of my eighth year and the flies had bitten my ears so severely that they were a bloody mess. My bedding was never changed, I was never allowed in the home and I was yelled and cursed at when I barked and howled my fears during thunderstorms. I didn’t understand what I had done to be treated like this and became afraid of her and most humans. I tried to show that I was a good dog by tucking my tail, cringing, rolling over on my back and wetting on myself when a human came near. Every time I did this, I got yelled at and cursed, but how else could I show that I wanted and needed desperately to be with humans who might love and care about me?
The day came when my master’s mother came out in the yard, unhooked me from the doghouse and chained me in the back of her truck. She had had “enough of my mess” and was going to take me to the dog pound to be “destroyed.” I really didn’t care, I had lost a lot of weight, my left eye hurt, the flies had been at my ears again and they were sore, my coat was filthy and matted and smelled horribly. Death was preferable to a life like this. As we went to “the pound,” a thunderstorm hit with hail and driving rain, I had no shelter and was almost instantly soaked to the bone as well as being pelted by the hail. There was no way I could get away. She stopped at a building and ran in, leaving me in the midst of the storm. I was so miserable! I howled my grief and misery to the heavens; what difference would it make?
The next thing I saw was a man who came out of the building; Lord he was angry! I could feel and smell his rage and was afraid, very afraid. He came to the truck, speaking gently to me even though he was being soaked and pelted just like I was. The next thing he did was snap a leash to my collar and take the chain off of me; then he picked me up and took me out of the truck.
He carried my to his van and put me inside on the back seat; then went around and opened the back and got some towels, came back to me and dried me off as well as he could, all the time talking gently to me. I couldn’t believe it! All I could do was cringe and whimper. His van was warm and dry and smelled like maybe he had another dog. Next he threw the wet towels in the back and opened a bag of dog food, pouring out a bowlful that he placed on the floor of the van. He poured water in another bowl and put it down also…Did he really mean for me to have it? He rubbed my head and scratched me gently under the chin and said he’d be back.
When he went back in the building the storm winds caught the door and held it open and I heard what he said; “Lady, I work with the Police K-9 Unit and the new Animal Cruelty Squad. You have two choices; you can give me that dog right now or you can go to jail. I’ll be delighted to file animal cruelty charges against you! If I do, I’ll make damn sure you spend the weekend in jail before you ever see the judge.”
Later he came back out of the building, looked to see if I had eaten anything and drunk a little water, I had and Lord it was GOOD! He poured out the rest of the water, got in the van and said; “OK big guy, let’s go home.” I whimpered and crawled between the seats, lying next to him as he drove. He dropped a hand down on me and kept it there all the way to his home, rubbing gently and talking to me as he drove.
When we got to his home we went to the back yard and he let me off the leash, I could hear other dogs in the house and after a few minutes he went in and let them out. He came back out with a brush and comb in his hands and introduced me to the other dogs. There were no dog houses in his yard, where was I going to sleep? Did I dare believe that he might, just might let me sleep in the house?!
We spent the rest of the day until sundown in the yard, I got a good brushing and combing as did the other dogs. There was no anger, no yelling or cursing, much petting and talking quietly; an occasional command which the other dogs obeyed immediately. I felt cared about for the first time in a long time. I was still scared but he never got upset when I crouched down or wetted as I approached him. I felt warmth and affection in his voice and in his hands…How did I get this lucky? What did I finally do right?!
When we went in the house, I didn’t know what the dog door was for and he had to come back out and hold the door open for me. The other dogs knew and went right through it but I was afraid. That was OK, it didn’t upset him. When I finally got inside, I crouched down in the utility room, afraid to go in the kitchen. The other dogs were all eating from a huge pan of dog food next to a big bucket of fresh water. He let them eat all they wanted and then refilled the pan. Then he came and brought me into the kitchen and sat on a stool talking to me while I ate.
When he left the kitchen he went into another room and sat down in a big chair. After a while I got the courage to go look, two of the other dogs were asleep on the couch and the other was asleep in a love seat, I crawled up next to his chair and huddled there. He put his book aside and rubbed my head, “You’re safe now, nothing to be afraid of. This is and will be your home too.” I couldn’t believe it, but I sure hoped he was right! “We need a name for you, one that will give you your pride back. How about ‘Duke’? Sound good to you?” For the first time I dared to wag my tail and lick his hand. “Eh, Duker, think you’ll be a lover do you?” The warmth and love in his voice made me want to wiggle all over!
That night and for the next several nights I slept by his bed, as close as I could get. If I dreamed, he would reach over and pet me, reassuring me that everything was OK. One night I dared to put my front legs up on the bed. To my surprise, he reached out and put his hand on the back of my neck and helped me up in the bed next to him! I crawled up next to him and cuddled as close as I could get. That night we slept with my back against his side and his hand resting on me…I was in Heaven! Loved at last!
I learned that his name was “Tom,” he worked two (2) jobs, but I had company in the other dogs. We were a family and very happy together. We lived together, traveled together and enjoyed being together. Never was I chained outside. I learned not to be afraid. I learned to be proud again.
I’d been with the “family’ for about 3 years when I began to not feel so good. My belly hurt and I really wasn’t hungry like I usually was, there was also a base-ball sized lump on my right side, right behind my ribs. When Tom was brushing me and pressed on the lump, it HURT! I knew better, but had to turn my head towards his hand. He examined the lump gently and then in a quiet, sorrowful voice said; “Well, Old Son, looks like we need to go see Doc.”
We got in the van and drove, by ourselves (That’s unusual!) to Doc’s. Tom told Doc about the lump and they picked me up and put me on a table so Doc could examine me. He told Tom, “We need some x-rays and a biopsy” (whatever those were). The next thing I knew, Doc gave me a shot and I got very sleepy and dozed off. I could still hear what was going on, but was so sleepy I couldn’t care less. Tom was still there, I didn’t hurt and wasn’t afraid.
I heard Doc tell Tom, “You’re right, it’s a well developed cancer that has spread through-out his abdomen.” Tom said “Ok, put him in my lap and let him go while he’s still asleep.” I was lifted off the table and put in Tom’s lap and that’s the last thing I remember.
When I woke up, Tom wasn’t with me; I wasn’t in his lap any more. What’s going on? Hey, my belly is OK, I don’t hurt any more. I can see with BOTH eyes now! Where am I?
A very gentle and kind voice told me: ‘Duke, you’re at the Rainbow Bridge. Tom sent you on to us, we’ve fixed your belly and your eye. You’ll live here with us and our friends until Tom comes to join us.’
© Thomas Johnston
NOTE – the picture with the story is not Duke but a representation of him
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