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Blaze the Dog

The day Mary Lou buried her husband, she came home to find his old dog, Blaze, lethargic and despondent. The white blaze on his head was still bright, but his eyes were dark and dull. He wagged only the white tip of his tail, but did not get up to greet her.

“He knows,” she thought, “and he’s grieving, the poor thing.” Then she turned her attention to her children. The next day, Blaze died.

It saddened Mary Lou to lose him, but she wasn’t surprised. Blaze had been her husband’s dog. Maybe Blaze had come into their lives to escort him through Bill’s years-long battle with the advanced complications of diabetes. It had not been an easy death. Bill fought many infections, repeated hospitalizations, open ulcers, an amputation, growing blindness, and confusion along the way. Then their home became hospice for many months. Through it all, Blaze was by Bill’s side.

When they first chose the shepherd mix puppy at the Humane Society, they predicted he was going to be a huge, intelligent dog. However, they could not have predicted what else their lives together might bring.

Blaze was a gift to their two children, but he rapidly attached to Bill. Bill taught him the names of a dozen toys. Bill taught Blaze to bring the correct toy when he named it. When he told Blaze to put his toys away, he dutifully carried each back to his bed near the kitchen table.

When Bill got sick, Blaze began to monitor Bill’s health. After an extended hospitalization to combat a leg infection, Bill came home to let his leg wound heal.

Blaze was careful of the leg when the two played tug of war, Mary Lou noticed. No longer would Blaze lean against it. Mary Lou was touched.

Many days later, she noticed Blaze delicately sniffing Bill’s leg. He seemed to be aware of something not yet visible to her eye as she changed Bill’s dressings. Near the bone of Bill’s leg, the infection had recurred.

Mary Lou speculated that Blaze’s acute nose had picked up the change long before even the doctor could have known. In coming months, Blaze served as an early warning system for the repeated infections that eventually forced the leg’s amputation.

When Bill became bedridden, Mary Lou was overwhelmed with all the responsibilities of motherhood, a full time job and another full time job ministering to the many needs of her dieing spouse. Blaze sensed her distress, and offered comfort. He began to shadow Mary Lou. When she cooked, he lay down behind her heels. When she took out the trash, he walked her to the curb. His very presence was offered as comfort.

After that, Blaze returned to Bill’s side many times each day, but Mary Lou concluded that Blaze now guarded her as well. He followed her everywhere and displayed a fierce face to strangers. Once introduced, Blaze was his friendly self, but no uninvited stranger would ever cross the family's threshold. Mary Lou wondered how Blaze had sensed her emotions. They weren’t like an infection he could smell.

When Mary Lou’s ninety-year-old mother with Alzheimer’s came for a visit. She accompanied them on a short vacation to their lake house. When Bill was comfortably in bed, Mary Lou turned her attention to cleaning and cooking. Her mother wandered down near the lake. Mary Lou saw her leave the house, and stepped outside to keep an eye on her. To her amazement, she saw Blaze walking beside the frail woman. Blaze usually ran off to harass the cattle on a neighbor’s farm any time he got out.

As they approached the lake, Blaze stepped ahead of her and came to a stop. The woman then settled on a bench by the lake and Blaze lay down beside her. Over the next few days, Mary Lou watched Blaze decide again and again where he was needed most. Sometimes he sat with Bill. Sometimes he padded slowly along with Mary Lou’s wandering mother. Sometimes he followed Mary Lou on repeated trips to load the car for the trip back home. When at last Mary Lou settled into bed that night, Blaze lay down on the floor by her side. The dog was a Godsend in those days.

When Blaze was adopted, the couple chose a shepherd mix for their kids. They expected a playpal for their children. A lifetime proved they got a spiritual family guardian throughout the seasons of their lives. When at last Bill died, Blaze left to accompany Bill’s spirit, Mary Lou decided.

The gifts and the intuition her companion animal sustain her spirits to this day.