I grew up surrounded by dogs.  My parents and grandparents always had beagles and black Labradors.  My uncle Lloyd had several coon dogs and other short hair dogs.  I hunted and played with every dog we had.  The difficult years of my youth were made better by comfort of my dogs.  We would go into the woods for hours and just walk around enjoying the day.  For me, there was always an attraction to dogs and sometimes they were my only friends.

In my college years I was not able to have a dog and lost the comfort they always provided.  I got married after college and moved on to a professional career.  My wife did not grow-up with animals and she was reluctant to bring one into our home.  When our daughter was about eight years old we bought a female Dalmatian puppy.  The breed is often viewed as the cuddly puppies of Disney movies.  Their public persona does not reflect their true nature.  Dalmatians are extremely loyal to a family and very protective.  Our daughter could wrestle with Kiley and never get a scratch.  As part of their playing, Kiley held our daughters hand in her mouth while they rolled around the floor.  The first few years were a challenge because both my wife and I had jobs and Kiley had to stay home alone.  Dalmatians don’t like being alone and often express their loneliness by chewing anything available.  We often came home to find a piece of furniture or ornament chewed to pieces.  All of that changed when my wife decided to be a stay-at-home mom.

Sue and Kiley became inseparable.  When she did errands Kiley always rode in the front seat of truck, usually with her head out the window and her ears flapping in the wind.  At home, Kiley’s favorite spot was on the couch looking out the front window.  We lived in a cul-de-sac and she knew who lived in each house.  If someone drove or walked into the cul-de-sac, and she didn’t know them, she alerted everyone with a ferocious and loud bark.  Any stranger who approached my wife or daughter was stopped with a menacing growl.  My job required that I frequently travel.  Even though I may be gone for months, my wife was never afraid because Kiley was there.

Kiley became very sick the summer after my wife decided to leave her job.  She lost hair and her skin became a bright pink.  She did not want to play or go for a walk.  Mostly, she just laid on the floor.  Everyday we could tell she was getting worse.  After a few days of daily deterioration we took her to the veterinarian.  Though he did several tests, could not determine what was happening to her.  I knew I had to make a decision.  It was one I didn’t want to make, but I couldn’t let Kiley or Sue live with the pain anymore.  I told my wife that tomorrow I would take Kiley to the veterinarian and have her put to sleep.  Sue wept, sat on the floor and lifted Kiley to her lap.  She spent the entire night holding Kiley, crying and trying to wish her back to health.  In the morning, Sue said she would take Kiley to the veterinarian, not to be put to sleep, but to insist that he find her illness.  I departed for work certain that this day would be Kiley’s last day.  However, angels and love do heal.

Our veterinarian did not specialize in small animals.  Unknown to us, his practice included farm animals.  When Sue arrived with Kiley he knew Sue was not going to leave without an answer.  He told Sue that there is a swine mite that affects pigs and the symptoms are very similar to what he saw in Kiley.  He told her he had never seen that type of mite infection in a dog but was willing to scrape her skin and see if it was possible.  Sue insisted he do the test immediately while waited for the results.  The doctor scraped Kiley’s skin and examined it under a microscope.  To his surprise, and Sue’s relief, Kiley’s skin was infested with mites.  He told her that he could treat Kiley through the day and expected her to be completely free of mites within twenty-four hours.  He was right.  The next day Sue picked up a healthy and mite free dog.  Kiley’s angel, and love, had saved her life.

Kiley lived for sixteen years.  She died in 2005 after giving us much love, comfort and many stories.  Sue had promised Kiley that she would be with her up to the moment she died.  When we took her to the veterinarian to be put to sleep, Sue stroked Kiley’s head slowly and whispered that she loved her.  Kiley’s last moments were covered with love and affection.

Our house felt different without Kiley.  We missed her kisses and snuggling with her on the couch.  I missed her nuzzling my hand when she wanted to be petted.  Our house was not a home without her.  My wife did not think she could love another dog as much as she loved Kiley.  Two weeks passed and Sue decided she could’t live in an empty house any longer.  We knew grandchildren were in our future and had talked about a breed best suited for a family with children.  Before Kiley died we decided that it we got another dog it would be a Golden Retriever.

We’re blessed with having two friends who rescue and foster dogs.  Sue called and asked that they keep an eye out for a Golden Retriever.  She also searched the internet for local organizations that rescued dogs.  Within a few days she found a dog she wanted to go and see.  When we arrived at the foster house of the rescued dog we were met by a happy and energetic Golden Retriever.  He was much bigger than Kiley, but I knew he was the dog for Sue.  The rescuer told us she found him the previous March huddled under a tree in a cold rain.  An angel had saved another dog.  I paid the rescuer the cost of his medical bills and we loaded him up into the truck.  Actually, he jumped in the truck and started barking as though he was telling us to get moving.  As we drove away, I asked my wife if we could call him Sota.  I’m originally from Minnesota and the name just came to me.  She liked the name and we took Sota to his new home.

When we arrived home, Sota ran through the house smelling everything and wagging his tail.  My wife sat on the bed and started to cry.  I asked what was wrong.  She said he was so big and she still wasn’t certain she could love him like she did Kiley.  I knew time would answer her question and prayers.  Within a week Sue and Sota were walking daily in the woods, and she started calling him “Momma’s baby.”  This “momma’s baby” was seventy pounds of puppy who made friends with everyone.  After a few minutes with Sota, you can’t do anything but love him.  He’ll wet your face with kisses and shed hair throughout the house.  In Sue’s eyes, momma’s baby can do no wrong.  On the day my brother-in-law Jay met Sota, he saw how Sue cared for him.   Jay announced that when he dies, he wants to come back as Sue’s dog.  That’s how much this angel loves her dog.

Five years later, I convinced Sue we should get another Golden Retriever so Sota would always have a companion.  Though I’m now retired, Sue and I are involved in our church enough that we sometimes had to leave Sota alone for several hours.  She wasn’t too thrilled with the idea of someone else moving in on momma’s baby, but she finally agreed to look for a companion.  We contacted our two friends again and they already knew someone who wanted to sell a young Golden Retriever.  That day we went and picked up a loving and energetic dog we named Minna (yes we have Minna Sota for dogs).

Minna was about one year old when we got her.  She is full of energy and loves to chase and wrestle Sota.  He will play with her on his terms.  If he’s not up for playing, he gives her a “get away from me” look and walks away with no doubt that he’s not playing anymore.  Minna is an affection magnet and can’t get enough love.  I think she was neglected by the previous owner and is making up for all the days she was locked away in a cage.  If I give Sota some attention, she squeezes in between us and gets her share.  If Sota gets a treat, Minna must have a treat.  She’s learning his moods but sometimes she can’t help but annoy him.  This past year we’ve been blessed with two fun and wonderful dogs.  We thought everything was going well until yesterday.  Something was wrong with Sota.

Sue rose early to let out the dogs and found a spot where one of them had thrown-up.  It was a white foamy substance.  Within an hour, I saw Sota throw-up the same white foamy substance.  Through the day we could tell he was getting worse.  We searched the internet for answers and thought it might be stomach acid.  He did not respond to medicine we gave him.  I told Sue that if he wasn’t better tomorrow we’d take him to the veterinarian.  Angels don’t wait when their loved ones are sick or in danger.  Eight o’clock last night we drove to an animal emergency clinic.  The diagnosis was a possible twisted stomach which would involve a very risky surgery.

Sue was devastated.  She had cried for hours.  Hearing that momma’s baby could be seriously ill brought fear into both of our hearts.  The emergency doctor wanted to do blood work and x-rays.  I didn’t feel comfortable having strangers working on Sota.  I asked if they could give him anything that would stop the vomiting and help him through the night.  They gave him three shots and instructions on what to watch for if he did have a twisted stomach.  They faxed the paperwork to our regular veterinarian and we went home – afraid and very sad.  However, Sota had his angel.

When we arrived home Sue instructed me to keep Minna and Murphy (a neighbor’s dog we were watching) in the bedroom with me.  She helped Sota lay next to the couch so she could be with him all night.  Sota’s angel didn’t sleep last night.  When he moved, she reached over and comforted him.  As she had with Kiley, she held Sota through the night and prayed.

When I got up this morning I could tell he was still sick.  I made a pot of coffee and then sat out on the patio.  Sota slowly walked to a shaded spot and laid down in dew soaked grass.  Minna and Murphy, as usual, chased each other around the yard.  Sota just laid there showing no interest in anything.  Then Minna did something I never expected.  She slowly walked over to Sota, kissed him on his head with her tongue, and laid next to him.  Usually Sota won’t allow her to lay so close to him.  This morning, however, he seemed to know that she loved him and had come to give comfort.  Angels were with him.

Each morning Sue and I start our day in prayer.  Our only prayer this morning was that Sota be healed.  We were waiting for our veterinarian’s office to open so we could call and get an appointment.  They called before opening when someone found the fax and said to bring him in immediately.  We coaxed him to stand and limp slowly to the truck.  With effort, he was able to climb into the truck and lay down.  Momma took her baby to the vet.  I did not have much hope that he would be healed.  I was certain that Sota was too ill to survive.  Fortunately, Sota had his angel and she wouldn’t let him die.

Sue and Sota were gone for over two hours.  When she called, the tone of her voice told me it was good news.  The doctor determined that Sota had hurt his back and his vomiting was a result of the pain.  Minna, Murphy and our grandson had all played with Sota the last few days and somehow he had pulled a muscle.  His stomach was fine; the pain was caused by tender muscles strained from having too much fun.  The doctor prescribed medicine and five days of rest.  An angel was bringing Sota home.

God gives us people who make a difference in our lives.  He gave me Sue forty years ago and I cannot imagine a day without her.  He gave us Sota and He gave Sota an angel.  People who love animals, especially dogs, know that they are more than just pets.  We bring them into our lives to love them and be loved by them.  I learned two things today – I love momma’s baby more than I thought, and yes, there are angels.  Sota and I saw one today.

— Brian from Harvest, AL