The young black dog was clearly dying. Tethered on a short chain in a weeded yard, he could not exercise and could only lie in his own waste. No one seemed to be around to feed him. Every day, as Mark drove along the dusty dirt road past the run-down property, he noticed the dog getting thinner and thinner, sicker and sicker.
On an impulse one summer evening, Mark pulled his pick-up into the rutted driveway, unsnapped the chain, and drove off with the dog. My son, Mark, stole another man's dog! He could no longer bear to watch the animal suffer.
Nursing the dog back to health was not easy, nor was it inexpensive. The dog needed considerable medical attention. He had no training, and he was suspicious and afraid. He would snap at anyone who approached him in ways that he considered threatening. But the rehabilitation of Chewbacca, his newly assigned name, had begun, and it was a journey that rewarded all who got to know him.
A black Lab, Doberman and Rottweiler mix, Chewy developed into a big, handsome animal. He was a proud dog who sat ramrod straight, as though he were constantly at attention. He didn't merely walk, he pranced like an elegant show dog.
Mark is an avid hiker. He and Chewy spent days together, hiking the mountainous trails of western North Carolina. Chewy never left Mark's side, no matter how difficult the hiking became. In towns, Chewy would wait patiently for Mark outside stores or restaurants. The bond between the dog and his savior grew stronger each day.
No one knew how old Chewbacca was. Except for a bit of gray around the muzzle, he did not show his age. Last summer, however, we suddenly realized he had a problem. On a walk around the neighborhood, Chewy stopped and did not want to go on. He was breathing heavily, and it took all of his strength to get back home. It had been seven years since Mark had rescued him. He had become a gentle, loving member of the family. We were worried.
The veterinarian had bad news--Chewy likely had cancer, but she recommended that he get confirming X-rays, a sonogram and other medical tests. Together, they would cost over $1,000. Mark had recently taken a new job and had not yet saved much money. I gently suggested to him that we accept the veterinarian's tentative diagnosis and simply take what might come, not really knowing what was wrong or the magnitude of the problem. Mark blurted out, "Dad, he's my best friend. I can't let him die without knowing what's wrong!"
At that moment, I was reminded of an immutable principle--it is not possible to put a price tag on unconditional love. Chewy died a couple of months after the tests were performed, but his powerful lesson will stay with us for all time. He was a good old guy.