“Lay hands on that dog and pray,” the Lord spoke into my heart as I stared at the one dog in the entire South Carolina animal shelter I had been forbidden by the shelter manager to take from the shelter so he wouldn’t be euthanized.
He was a sack of bones. His head hung low to the ground. He was downtrodden. Run down. Defeated. Homeless. Broken. He was virtually hairless. He was covered in sarcoptic mange. Red mange. His skin was red and was greasy. He had an eye infection, ear infection, heartworm, and pneumonia. A shelter worker had found him on the road with a tree branch over him about to break from all the buzzards perched on it. The buzzards were either about to eat some road kill he had found or may have been about to eat him. This was the dog God told me to pray for. But why should I pray? The shelter manager had already given me her orders.
Me, a broken woman due to decades-long trials and tribulations, who had grown up in a Jewish family that didn’t believe in God and had neglected my childhood dog and had not been in a dog lover in the least. God was telling me to pray for a dog that was about to be euthanized.
I, a new follower of Jesus Christ who was not too accustomed to the idea of God having anything to say to me, mushed my hand through the wire of the dog pen to stick my hand on the dog and pray for him.
God spoke again. “No, go inside the dog pen,” He spoke into my heart.
I rolled my eyes at God. Not recommended. “What difference does it make?” I retorted to God. Despite my resistance, I yielded. I went into the dog pen.
I went against the shelter manager’s orders and took the homeless, nameless, dog from the shelter. I drove him to Savannah, GA, where I proceeded to walk him down the sidewalk in front of a favorite little health food shop of mine. People stared at me and the dog, undoubtedly deeply troubled about how a woman could so despicably neglect her dog.
As I stood with the dog on a street corner, a homeless man with a big, scraggly red beard and a simple knapsack on his back with likely all his life’s possessions, came up to talk to me, sharing with me how he had raised dogs long ago. He took a strong interest to the dog, and we chatted back and forth for a little while. Some people look homeless, and some really look homeless. This man looked as homeless as a homeless man can look. So did the dog. The three of us stood there together, no doubt an unusual sight for passerby. A downtrodden dog not far from death. A homeless man holding his life in a knapsack. And a woman broken by her past.
For the life of me, I had no intention to say it. But I did. “Do you want to come to my church tonight?” I asked the man. “Homeless people are welcome.” I had no expectation for him to come to church, of course. I didn’t know the man. I was relatively new to this church. And I still had to drive back to South Carolina with the dog and get him situated in what I figured would be his temporary living situation until I found someone to adopt him.
To my utter surprise, and delight, the homeless man showed up at my church that night. But a little while into the service, he whispered to me that he had to leave early. As I walked him out, he told me he planned to go sleep by the river. It was a cold winter night, and he had nothing more than a sweatshirt to keep him warm. I happened to have an extra jacket in my car, so off we went to the car.
On the way, he told me his story. He shared that he had been shot in a war, God had saved his life to see his wife again, but his wife and kids had been killed in a car wreck when she took off drunk one morning with the kids in the car.
He was so broken the day I met him over the loss of his wife and kids that he had been thinking about jumping in the river to kill himself.
“I was walking down the street,” he told me, “and God told me to come turn around and talk to you. Never in a million years did I think the answer would come in the form of a mangy dog.”
The homeless man did not know, of course, that I had decided to kill myself several times amid over 15 years of suicidal thoughts. God had saved my life, brought me to the homeless dog to save his life, brought the homeless dog and I to the homeless man to help save his life, and that was not all.
About a month later, I awoke one morning to find Red the dog, whom I had named after the homeless man called Red, tossing up blood every few minutes. The floor was covered in blood, my pajamas were covered in blood, and my car became covered in blood. Despite being a relatively new follower of Jesus Christ, I used the Bible scriptures I knew and did the little I knew to do in the way of having faith for the survival of Red the dog. I had no idea what God had in store.
I dropped Red the dog at the emergency vet clinic and headed off in my pajamas covered in blood to church for the Sunday morning Bible study and service. My pastor didn’t bat an eyelash when I walked in late in my bloodied pajamas to Bible study, and he sent me off to the clothes closet for a change of clothes.
Not too long afterward, I found myself sitting quietly in the sanctuary waiting for the Sunday morning service. Not for the first time, and not for the last given all the years since that day, I heard the Lord speak into my heart.
“I’ve healed your dog,” He told me. “Now heal my people.”
Not too long afterward, I took Red to a vet and left the vet’s office with very little hope. I actually strongly considered turning my car back around to the vet’s office to ask the vet to euthanize him. All my human eyes could see was the horrific condition of poor Red the dog. I was at the start of what would become a very long journey of learning that God doesn’t call us to live by sight; He calls us to live by faith. Thankfully, God had sent a strong woman of faith into my life for a short season who felt that I should give Red a chance. She even anointed him with oil, and to this day I do not recall what prayer she spoke over him. I only know God answered.
Red was restored to perfect health. I never did end up adopting him out. He became my sidekick. God used Red’s Story countless times, and still does, to reach people’s hearts and to touch their lives. God used Red to bring me into people’s lives to tell them about Jesus Christ and to help those who already had a relationship with the Lord. God used Red to bless people immeasurably, most of all myself.
Some months later, I ran into Red the homeless man. We sat on a park bench, I shared with him Red the dog’s photos and story, we went back through his life together so he could forgive those he needed to forgive and ask God to forgive him his sins, and we hugged as I said, “I love you.” I cannot fathom by his response to the love God poured through my heart for him when the homeless man had last felt the love of God. A week or so later, I ran into the homeless man one last time. He had light back in his eyes.
What for me started off years ago as dog rescue work ultimately became full-time ministry. For just as God had said that He wanted me to heal His people, He showed me that as much as I love dogs, my primary purpose on this earth is to love the Lord with all my heart and to love my neighbor as myself – and to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ while ministering the Lord’s love to a world in need.
I am incapable of healing people; I am only human. But I am perfectly capable of dedicating my life to loving the Lord and telling the world about Jesus Christ, Savior of the world. And this I do. While I continue to care for the mostly special needs and senior rescued dogs in Walk by Faith Ministry’s little sanctuary, my number one passion is the Lord and helping people to be saved, healed, delivered, set free, made whole, and utterly transformed. I am blessed every time I minister to a homeless person, share the Gospel with a stranger I meet on the beach, take a phone call from someone who is broken, send an e-mail to someone who does not know how to be saved, write an inspirational piece online to help people understand and apply the Bible to their lives, write a book to encourage people to follow Jesus, whatever it is the Lord calls me to do.
Though I never saw Red the homeless man again, Red the dog was my sidekick for seven long and amazing years after the day God told me to go inside the dog pen and lay hands on him and pray. I never imagined I would adopt him, I never imagined he would live with such beautiful health for so many more years, and ultimately I never imagined that one day I would have to send him back to the Lord from whom He had come.
My backup vet took an x ray to see where the towel was inside him, and we agreed to simply monitor him over the next 24 hours. The vet told me at one point that it was surgery or else. The towel simply would not pass on its own. Red the dog had never done something like eat a towel before. I believe he was extremely hungry from medication he was on for walking issues, and that he may have also been in great distress. For what the vet found when she did the surgery was exceedingly aggressive cancer. She took out his gall bladder, but I knew when I saw him afterward it would take another miracle for him to live.
Red and I were out of miracles, at least as far as our lives together were concerned. God had already given us over seven years together that far exceeded what we might have had – particularly considering the shelter manager had forbidden for me to take him from the shelter. It was time for me to say goodbye. If I had dropped him at the emergency shelter that night, he might have survived the surgery. But given the cancer, the life he would have had would likely have been horrific – and extremely short.
When I think periodically about how I wish that last night I had not been cranky with him when he woke me up, I have to remember that God’s grace is sufficient to cover my sins when I repent, which I have, and that Red the dog knew my extreme love for him for many incredible years.
The day I helped send Red to heaven to be with the Lord where I believe he is now, waiting for me with all my other dogs I have had to let go, I had no idea what a phenomenally hard time I would have with the loss. I had already lost so much in my life, my childhood to sexual abuse, my adulthood to the loss of my family for talking about the abuse, to post traumatic stress disorder and multiple addictions and abandonment by two husbands and two unwanted divorces, and so much more. Now I had lost my beloved Red, whom as much as I believed God had sent to me simply to birth Walk by Faith Ministry, I came to find He had also sent Red to me to be my loyal and faithful, my loving companion.
Walk by Faith Ministry’s mission is to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ while ministering the Lord’s love to a world in need. My life’s mission is to love the Lord with all my heart, and my neighbor as myself, and to fulfill my ministry’s mission for the glory of the Lord God almighty. For the first time in a good long while, I wanted to die again. In my heart, I wanted to climb a ladder to heaven and be with God and Jesus and Red and my other dogs. But God gave me a Bible verse and sent two women to me with a message. Red’s purpose was over. Mine was not complete. So I made a decision in my heart that as much as my flesh no longer wanted to be on this earth, that my spirit would choose to live with a passion greater than ever, a desire more than I had ever known, to do what I am on this earth to do for as l long as I remain here.
“But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith: That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead. Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:7-14 KJV
*** Please note there is great debate about whether according to the Bible dogs go to heaven. I cannot speak for the Lord, nor do I take sides with the biblical debate. My hope, of course, is that each and every one of the countless dogs I have been blessed to have in my life through the years will be there waiting for me. I simply ask the Lord if this is the case that I won’t need to take care of them as I believe I have paid my dues on earth after about 20 years of having up to about 19 rescued dogs at a time (SMILE)!***