Late on the snowy afternoon of January 25, 2001 in Somerset County, while driving through the park at Somerset Lake and rounding a corner, there appeared in the twilight beams of my van, two bright, sharply lit eyes peering above a high pile of snow.
The temperature was Arctic, the conditions were severe, and here was an animal, crouched behind a wall of snow. When I stopped to investigate, the terrified Beagle peered higher and retreated in fear. The dog was obviously in distress.
The effects of the cold were evident: the dog was shivering and whimpering. I reached down and immediately the dog responded with a kind of a "woof" and a bark. It was difficult to guess whether it might try biting. I recovered some Italian cookies from the van, and sure enough, she gobbled them up ravenously. I made a trail to the van and she ate each one and climbed up into the van.
On the way home I stopped at a local grocery story and bought a pound of bologna. The dog ate almost all of it by the time I got home. We noticed her paws were so cold she resisted walking.
The next day I tracked down the owner of the beagle, and eventually, ownership of the dog was transferred to me. She came with pedigree, and she had to have a name to continue the line. She was obviously of royal lineage. She carried herself with dignity and pride.
She did not merely walk, she pranced, and frolicked, and scampered. And that was her name, Scamper, with royal title – Her Ladyship the Duchess Scamper of Somerset Lake.
And so it began, this amazing relationship, beginning actually with the medical attention she needed, and at the same time, her lineage had come to an end, but whatever she needed from then on, she would need to get from me: food, water, lodging, security, protection. All of it, and in return, she gave unconditional friendship, loyalty and devotion.
Scamper came home in a blue and purple fleece blanket she treasured all her life. From then on, she was part of every event of my own life, including the first inspection of an abandoned church in November, 2001. And through the years, she was present at just about every moment there as well, so much so that countless visitors came to know her, to recognize her by sight and to know her name. She was even written about in an article about the chapel, too.
She was part of my life, and when it became necessary to leave her in the care of the folks in Somerset, she became well known to the many visitors at the antique shop. When going for a walk in the streets of Somerset, Scamper would be greeted by people passing by in cars, with a toot of the horn.
Last August, Scamper had some serious health problems, and although she endured some extensive and painful surgery, she survived for a brief time. Around Christmas time, signs of her disease reappeared. The doctor said nothing more could be done. The disease was aggressive and rapid and Scamper's end would be quick and I had to be prepared to do what needed to be done.
On a Saturday morning, on returning from her usual walk, she was attacked with a seizure. From then on, her physical condition rapidly deteriorated. She lost balance and coordination of her hind quarters, and had to be carried. She stopped eating, and laid at ease and in peace, but no longer ventured far from her sleeping spot.
For three nights I stayed up all night with her, keeping watch to be sure she didn't try to stray. Only once she try going to the third floor, and climbed two steps and sat down and would go no further. On a Tuesday night, she suddenly was attacked by another seizure, and this time, she cried like a baby in pain. I could not console her, I could do nothing for her, and I knew it was time.
I wrapped her in her blue and purple blanket, and carried her in my arms to the hospital. She was docile and laid across my lap and did not seem to be in pain. The doctor treated her with kindness and gentleness, and I held her paw for the doctor as the injections were administered. She did not flinch or yelp at the sting of the needle, and so I think, perhaps the latest seizure had taken away her awareness and sensitivity. I felt her pulse diminish and slow down, slower, slower until at last it stopped. Her bright wide brown eyes closed for the last time, and Scamper was gone.
I came home that night, and entered an empty home. Scamper had been away before, but this time, I knew, she wasn't coming back.
In theology class in the seminary, we discussed whether animals have souls, and whether animals will go to heaven. I am pretty sure we learned, animals do not have souls, and therefore, will not go to heaven. We also learned heaven is a place of supreme and perfect happiness.
And so, to me, it follows, since my life on earth has been so enriched by Scamper's companionship, I am sure my happiness will be complete with the thought, All Dogs go to heaven. Until I cross over myself, I will delight in the vision of Scamper, scampering across the Elysian Fields, and frolicking and romping and running and jumping, and wagging her tail in love and in friendship.
I wish you the joy of knowing in your life a creature so humble, so gentle, so generous, so loyal and so faithful as Scamper. My Sister Mena asked if I would get another dog. I think I will I told her. Good, she said, there are a lot of dogs who need a good home.
Public service announcements draw attention to the rise in animal neglect and abuse, especially since the disclosure of the shameful and illegal practice of dog fighting. If it is true – a civilization is judged by the manner in which it treats the humblest of its citizens – then there might also be something said about the manner in which it treats the animals who live among us and share our environment, our resources and our lives.
If you ever thought of sharing your life with a pet, please do it. It will enrich your life.
(Rev. Al Mascherino, an ordained Catholic priest for 26 years, is founder/director/curator of The Flight 93 Memorial Chapel, a non-denominational spiritual refuge and place of meditation and prayer for those visiting Shanksville, which is where the terrorist-hijacked plane crashed on 9/11/01. His Web site is www.flt93memorialchapel.org .)