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I went out last night, just after midnight, to make sure all the heat lamps were working in the goat, chicken and turkey houses.  The temperature was supposed to go to zero or below.  All the dogs had long gone to bed and the night was silent.  Stepping on the porch I was greeted with the sight of a crystal clear sky and multitudes of stars.  Turning on the flashlight(we refuse to have one of those blasted dusk to dawn monstrosities that keep the stars from shining) I made my way to the barn.  Earlier in the evening I had taken some straw to freshen the farm animal's bedding, and had dropped a flake outside the gate that I failed to retrieve.

Walking down the drive, I saw a set of bloody paw prints pressed into the snow, that came out of the woods and ended at the pile of straw by the gate.  Curled on the pile of straw was a dog.  Medium sized.  Could have been any kind of dog.  It was hard to tell in the darkness.  The only thing for sure was that it was a dark color.   I put my hand on the back and felt cold ribs.  I took my gloves off and felt behind the front leg.  A heart beat.  Then I heard a faint thump.  The end of the tail was going up and down making a slight impression in the snow, but the head didn't move.  I saw the deep brown eyes that seemed to say, “please don't run me off.  I can't take another step.”  The feet were cracked and bleeding.  I checked to make sure the heat lamps were working and gently scooped up the frozen dog.  No resistance, just the thump of the tail.  Not much weight for the size of the bundle.  I made my way to the front door.

Coming inside I laid the dog down inside the door.  It never moved.  Checking to make sure everyone was still asleep, I began the search for a blanket.  I was pretty sure we had used the last dog blanket for our latest rescue.  Nothing in the closet, nothing in the dryer, nothing on the couch.  I went to the bedroom and gently retrieved the one off the bed.

Even it was old and beginning to fray around the edges, but it was the last one available.  I folded it and set it by the heat register closest to the furnace.  Then I picked up the dog and laid it down on top.

After midnight, on New Year's Eve, in a very rural area of Southwest Missouri?  No way I could get a Vet to see this one tonight.  We would have to try tomorrow.  I went to the kitchen and took a container of chicken broth out of the fridge and popped in the microwave.  I went back to the living room and set the bowl down next to the blanket, within easy reach of the cold nose.  Another thump of the tail, was the only movement.  I reached down and put my hand under the chin, gently lifting the head.  Now inside I could see that the dog was black, at least on the parts that had not turned grey.  Almost the entire face showed the white signs of time past, and the pupils surrounded by those dark brown eyes were blue.  The ears were that of a Lab and so was the tail which thumped every time I came near.  The body was skin and bone.  There were no front teeth.  The canines were worn or broken down to nubs, and I was able to see three teeth in the back.  I didn't want to pry to see if the old dog was a male or female.  It really didn't matter anyway.  I told the old dog I was going to go to bed and patted it's head which was met by another thump of the tail.

On my way to the bedroom, I wondered how in the world the dog had gotten to our farm.  It came through the woods which were large and uninhabited.  I also wondered why here.  The answer was simple.  The hand of God had brought the old dog to the right place.

It's morning now and I've been up for a few hours.  The bowl of broth was empty and the blanket was much as I had left it.  No bloody paw prints on the carpet, only on the old blanket.  Sometime after I went to bed, the old dog lapped up the chicken broth and licked the bowl clean.  The blanket had been fluffed a little and the old dog had curled into a tight ball with the nose tucked inside the tail.  When I bent down to say good morning, there was no thump of the tail.  I knew then that the old dog had crossed the Rainbow Bridge in the night.  Kneeling there in front of the old dog, I thanked God for the one old blanket I had left and for the hand that gently guided the old dog to Rainbow Farms.  It was then that I thought of the poem that Walt had written for us:

“Listen to the kindness, spoken softly,

Often lost behind the tears.

Place your hand upon my shoulder,

Let it take away my fears.”

- Walt Zientek

May the New Year bring you closer to the hand of God, and all the old blankets you may need.

Becky Loyd, Rescue Coordinator
The Rainbow Farms Project, Inc.: “A Special Place for Special Animals”
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