Zack was my best friend. I still struggle to talk about him in the past tense. I know it probably sounds silly for a grown woman call a dog her best friend but I can assure you that he was indeed, without question, the very best friend I have ever known. My dad would tease that Zack looked at me as though the sun rose and set around me. I would tease back that he was just seeing that little bit of good in me that was so easy for most people to overlook.
October 21, 2012 started out very similar to today. It was one of those amazing fall mornings in Georgia when you can tell Mother Nature is finally letting go of her tight grip on summer, allowing a reminder of those crisp winters days to slip between her fingers. I was about to take my horse Hugo for a Sunday morning trail ride when I heard my two Australian Shepherds, Zack and Zorro, barking in a way that I knew needed my immediate attention. They were in their back yard pen. Something on the outside of the fence was causing some very loud alarm barks to shrill from the inside of the fence.
When I got to the backyard I saw that Zorro’s nose was through the wire fence and being held there by the paws of what was clearly a rabid raccoon. I don’t know what was racing faster-my feet as I ran to get my dad’s old shotgun or my mind as I considered everything that go possibly go wrong before I returned.
I knew I had to get both dogs out of the way because I knew I was not that good of a shot. Between all the yelps and growls and Zack trying organize the chaos, I somehow got Zorro detached from that raccoon without breaking his skin or touching any damp fur. I used to always laugh at how opposite yet complementary Zack and Zorro were to each other. I would joke that if there was ever a burning building, Zorro would start tossing things out the window without checking who would catch them while Zack would be holding a clipboard, arranging the most efficient and safest exit routes.
I had the dogs follow me up a ramp on to the back deck. I had the ramp built not long after Zack had torn his second ACL. While he could no longer take stairs at all, he had rehabilitated enough to use the ramp and got around the farm with only a small hitch in his walk. I crossed to the other entrance to take the stairs back down and make sure the gate on that end was closed.
As I was hurrying to get back before I lost the raccoon, a small voice inside my head questioned if I had latched the gate. I dismissed the thought justifying that Zack had not tried to use stairs in almost a year so there was no concern. The more pressing issue, I rationalized, was getting back to the raccoon before he ambled away to create more damage.
I jumped the fence and managed to take care of the raccoon without any problems. As I looked up to the house I saw Zorro was only a few feet from me. When I realized that Zorro’s presence meant I had left a gate open, everything suddenly went from lightning fast in my mind to a painful slow motion that encompassed me.
I saw something at the bottom of the stairs. I don’t think I have ever managed to run so fast in my entire life. I also don’t think I have ever yelled so loud for help. I saw Zack looking at me and trying to wag his ‘tail’ while he tried to crawl on his belly to get to me. He had injured his front leg. Knowing he was already struggling with two torn ACLs…
I covered him with my body and shook and cried and screamed and wailed for help. I tried to call people but was so distraught I made no sense on the phone. I finally reached my mom. She came over and help me load him into her SUV to take him to the emergency hospital.
We left him overnight to see if anything could be done, and they did actually release him the next morning to come home and try to heal. If leaving the gate unlatched was my biggest mistake, the decision to bring Zack home was my cruelest.
As soon as we arrived at the farm and I tried to get him inside I started to really understand what trouble he was in. I tried with every bit of my strength, but I just could not lift him without hurting him. He would whimper and I started crying and finally just took a moment to think…and cry some more.
Finally my mother gently touched my shoulder without saying a word. The two of us loaded Zack back in her SUV and made the emotional drive to the local clinic.
I said goodbye to my best friend on October 22, 2012.
I was taught and firmly believe that because we are forgiven, we forgive others. I am very good at asking for forgiveness. I am pretty good on most days at forgiving others.
I am just not very good at all at forgiving myself-especially when it is for hurting something or someone that I love.
I know I will always love Zack. I will always tear up a little when I say his name or see his photo. This year though I decided to use October 22 to practice forgiving myself.
An unforgiving heart will eventually become a cold, hard and unhealthy heart. Even when we are the ones denying our own forgiveness.
I work very hard to be healthy both inside and out. Health is certainly about proper nutrition and consistent fitness. Health is also about having a strong heart, a soft heart and one that forgives because it embraces that it has been forgiven.
ZACK June 19, 2000-October 22, 2013