Unconditional Love This Year for Christmas

Just before the Christmas of 1997, when my daughter was 11 years old, she and my wife stopped by my office and encountered my older brother’s Christmas gift for our father.  It was a little black and white Border Collie puppy about six weeks old.  My daughter squealed, picked up the tiny dog and hugged her tight.  Not realizing the pup was a gift for someone else, my child looked at me, batted her eyes and said, “Daddy, can I have her?”


My brother, being a gentleman, answered for me, simply saying, “Of course you can have her.  Merry Christmas!” He then promptly went out, purchased another gift for our father and never said another word about it.  That was the day that little Haley came into our lives.

We have always had at least one dog during our 30 years of marriage but this one was different. She seemed to understand things quicker. Haley was also (as any Border Collie owner can tell you is common) a dog of exceptional intelligence and intensity. Her breeding was to herd animals for a living, but all her life the only thing she was ever able to herd was our old Shih Tzu, a fellow dog who always resented being mistaken for a sheep.
During those years, I was working long hours and first saw this new dog as just another nuisance, an expense, a chore (supposedly not “my” chore, but probably my chore). My wife Puddy, who has always been much wiser than me, saw things differently. She knew this little dog was something special. Puddy saw exactly how this little pup would enrich our family and spent time with Haley, teaching her how to sit up, beg, roll over and fetch and how to ring a bell when she needed to go outside. I don’t know if it was the years wearing me down or Haley’s uncanny intelligence and ability to read me, but this little dog did what many others before her hadn’t and bored a hole right into my heart.
When I would come home from a difficult day at work, Haley seemed to instinctively know my mood and would simply run up to me and look at me with those big loving, accepting eyes and want to play for a few minutes to help me unwind. As much as I complained about the dog hair that constantly seemed to be everywhere, I secretly knew that I was unconditionally loved by that little dog regardless of what had happened at work that day.
Mostly Haley spent her nights napping with my daughter and her afternoons patrolling the house. Occasionally, she’d deliver explosive sneak attacks on her backyard nemesis, the Evil Squirrel, or spend evenings talking at us in some very passionate undeterminable language only known to canines.
Time marched on, and my daughter went off to college while Haley stayed home. Haley and I didn’t really know what to do with ourselves. After a little moping, we added an evening walk routine to help both of us cope with the loss of our favorite little girl.
A couple months later, our son moved back to town after graduating from college, and with him came Deacon, his 5-month-old black lab puppy. Deacon stayed at the house during the days, and Haley suddenly had a new playmate. They would chase each other around and around the couch for what seemed like forever. She would even stalk Deacon throughout the house in good-natured fun and developed a sort of doggie judo to take him down when she caught him. The two of them got along famously.
Unfortunately, at the tender age of eight, Haley developed heart problems. At first there was just less play in her, but it quickly progressed to longer and longer afternoons of watching Deacon, the Evil Squirrel and all of us around her. On a sunny day in May, while she was sitting by the window and looking into the back yard, she seemingly left as quickly as she had come, and her sweet heart simply gave out. I cried for the little dog who had loved me so much. I was so sad that she left us but so joyous that God had sent her to us for the short time she was here.  There is so much we can learn from the unconditional love of a dog.
We buried Haley in the back yard that she loved so much, even holding a small funeral service for her.  Afterwards, I wrote out the simple little prayer that I prayed for Haley:
Will Rogers once said, “If there aren’t any dogs in heaven, I don’t want to go.”
We are here today to lay to rest Haley, a faithful companion for the past eight years.
Anyone who has ever had a dog knows the days pass all too quickly. That even when she is a little puppy, deep down we know this day is coming. It is a bittersweet relationship. One that we know will probably lead to this very day. So we say good-bye today all too soon.
May you run in the green grass of heaven and never grow tired. May you play again as a puppy. May you sit in the lap of God and rest.
Now go first and blaze a trail into eternity. Go on ahead; we will all be along shortly.
After a little time had passed and it was obvious that I missed Haley, Puddy suggested that we get another dog, but we had Deacon much of the time, and I wasn’t ready for another dog. Besides being double her size, Deacon was different than Haley. He would greet me with such ferocious tail-wagging when I came home that it would sometimes shake loose his own footing. Deacon didn’t need to pace the house; he was at peace lying at the feet of someone he loved. And unlike Haley and me with our Type A personalities, Deacon seemed to go along and get along with his world. He didn’t worry about thunder, firecrackers, sudden noises or a change in pace. (One time he even used a thunderous fireworks display as a prime opportunity to clean out an unattended chili bowl!)  His whole world revolved around his people, and he was at peace when he was around them. I had no way to know it at the time but my future was about to shift from a Haley lifestyle to a Deacon lifestyle.
Haley and I had always been on mission, looking for problems to solve and ready for action. What we also had had in common was that we both had untimely heart issues. Ironically, eight months before my heart attack, with no medical diagnoses, I had decided to live a life different than the very intense one I had been living. I wanted a less “serious-all-the-time” life with more smiling more and more time with my loved ones. I wanted a Deacon kind of life.
I am not sure how the world knows what you need, but after my heart attack, Deacon was my shadow. When I would nap on the couch, he would nap next to the couch. When I would wake, he would wake and greet me by plopping his big gentle head on my stomach. He would regularly study my face to make sure I was okay and then ask for a head scratch. During my six-week recovery at the house he kept an eye on me and helped me lead a Deacon kind of life.
Again, time marched on and after I recovered, both my daughter and my son moved to Nashville and into a house together. It was really hard to see both of my children move more than 550 miles away, and it became even harder when I realized Deacon soon would be moving, too. A month later they came back for him, and I was suddenly dog-less!
A year has passed, and recently, when we asked our daughter what she wanted for her birthday, she replied, “a dog.” We put her off and told her that she had Deacon, to which she replied, “He’s not my dog.” I then pulled my trump card and told her that if she made good grades, we would talk about it in the fall, maybe for Christmas. I’ll be darned if she didn’t call my bluff and make straight A's for the first time in her life!
We are now gearing up for Christmas and Puddy is trying to find a female Border Collie puppy to surprise our daughter with for Christmas this year. I think I even heard her whisper on the phone to the breeder to ask if he might have two female puppies! I’ll have to act surprised! I may even gripe a little for tradition’s sake as long as Puddy doesn’t take her back…
Don’t be afraid that your life will end. Be afraid that it will never begin!
Postscript by my son:
That December, my mother and father went to see a breeder an hour south of their home and found two tiny, furry female Border Collie puff balls. Both of them fell hopelessly for two pups, who are now named Gracie and Ellie.  My sister got her puppy for Christmas, and Mom and Dad kept the other one.
A year later, my mother had an opportunity to help out another lovely pup named Abbey, a golden retriever, by adopting her from a young couple who had a brand new baby and could not take care of Abbey properly.
Now, Abbey, Gracie, Ellie and Deacon are around when all of us get together for holidays.  Each of us has a dog to look after us, and our dogs continue to teach us lessons of unconditional love. There is just no substitute for the love of a good dog, and our family is very blessed in that department.
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Since 2001, Larry LaBorde has sold gold, silver, platinum and palladium for investment to clients in the U.S. and around the world through his firm, Silver Trading Company LLC. The firm also offers guidance about metals storage options. We love your feedback! Please email Larry with your thoughts about this article or your questions about metals or storage.

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