Children and dogs are as necessary to the welfare of the country as Wall Street and the railroads. — Harry S. Truman
I met Eric at a church youth group where I spoke about angels. Afterward, he shared his own story with us. It was the first time I had ever thought about the connection between dogs and heaven, and I still can’t read about Buddy without getting goose bumps.
When Eric was only a few months old, his family adopted a beagle puppy from a nearby animal shelter. Eric named the dog “Buddy” because that was his first word, even before he learned to say “mama.” The two were inseparable. Buddy appointed himself baby Eric’s guardian and seemed to know when the little boy needed help, and when he was simply enjoying life. (The two were often the same.)
Buddy was a well-mannered dog, too. The only conflict the family had with him was his behavior late at night. Although Buddy knew that his own bed was in an alcove in the dining room, and that’s where he was to stay, he often awakened shortly after midnight and tiptoed (if a dog can tiptoe) up the stairs. Quietly he would enter Eric’s bedroom (the door squeaked just a little) and jump up onto Eric’s bed. This, of course, immediately awakened the boy. “Buddy would stay at the bottom of the bed,” Eric recalls. “He would turn around a few times, to get comfortable, and the bed would shake a little. Then he would lie down with his back snuggled up against my legs and go to sleep. He always kept my legs so warm.”
Buddy usually made it back downstairs to his official bed before the family arose, so he could greet each member with innocent brown eyes. But Eric’s mother had a certain kind of radar that allowed her to know what was going on without actually seeing it. “Eric, you’re going to have to do something about the dog,” she would tell her son from time to time. “I don’t like animals in people’s beds.”
“I will,” Eric promised. But what, exactly, could he do?
The years passed, Eric’s life got busier, and Buddy’s slowed down. They still met almost every midnight, but it was becoming harder for Buddy to jump onto the bed. And then one day, Buddy seemed to be in pain. Mom would take him to the vet, she announced at breakfast. Perhaps it was time.
“No!” Eric cried out, embarrassed at the sudden tears flooding his eyes. “Buddy’s fine, Mom. Just a little older.”
“Eric,” his mother said gently. “You know that’s not true.”
His mother always seemed to know what he was thinking. But life without Buddy? No running in the backyard, no one greeting him each day with joy, no warm back pushed up against his legs at night? Eric thought his heart would break. And when his mother came home from the vet alone, it almost did.
The next days without Buddy were like none Eric had ever known. How could anyone his age feel like the saddest thing in the world had happened? Was this emptiness ever going to end? “The worst part is knowing that I’m never going to see him again,” Eric told his mother one evening.
“How do you know that?” his mother asked. “Have you talked to God about it?”
To God? Well, Eric hadn’t thought about that. He often prayed, but it was more like a recital of all the things he did that day, his worries, and sometimes his wants. But it couldn’t hurt, could it? After all, God was the one who had made Buddy. That night Eric knelt by his bed for a few moments. “God, I need to know something,” he began. “Do dogs go to heaven? If they don’t, then can we ever see them again? See, I really miss Buddy and the thing is, I’m afraid I’m not going to remember him.” His eyes started filling again. That was enough praying for one night.
Eric was in a deep sleep when something awakened him. Had it been the squeak from the door? His parents usually looked in on him on their way to bed. But he didn’t hear anything. Then, all of a sudden, he felt something at the bottom of the bed—the movement of the mattress, as if someone had jumped on top of it. But there was no one in the room.
Then the hair on Eric’s neck stood straight up. The presence at the foot of the bed was moving, turning around as if searching for a comfortable spot, and then lying down against Eric’s legs. Eric looked at his alarm clock with its lighted dial. The time was just a few moments after midnight. He looked down at the end of the bed. There was nothing there—yet his legs were as warm as they had ever been, warm right through to his heart.
The next morning Eric’s mother noticed a difference in her son. “You must have prayed last night,” she said.
“I did, Mom.” Eric was still thinking of the presence on his legs. “I think God said that nothing we love ever goes away forever. We keep it alive by remembering. And that’s what I’ll be doing with Buddy, at least until I learn something more.” He grabbed his books and was out the door.
His mother watched him go. That wasn’t all that had happened last night, she was sure of it. But mothers try not to interfere with an angel’s work. “Thanks, Buddy,” she whispered and went to make the coffee.