I'm amazed to see how beautiful Grady is. I'm not surprised that he is beautiful; I'm surprised to be able see him. I've been blind for two decades. Grady has been my eyes for the last eight years. I run my fingers through his lush coat and marvel at his extravagant tail. I feel the muscles around his shoulders; he's a powerful beast. He cocks his head, the way German Shepherds do, and looks at me with those lovely eyes.
"Boss, there's something I gotta do. Now that you can see, you'll be ok here, by yourself, for a little while, won't you?" I don't hear the words; I find them lingering in my memory, the way a phrase does after you've heard it. There was no doubt that they came from Grady.
Bewildered by a second unimaginable event in as many minutes, I nod dumbly.
Grady sits, leaps, and is gone.
Where did he go? As I wonder where he is, I begin to see a street. I recognize the layout. It's my neighbourhood, but the buildings all look like piles of rubble. I count down three units from the corner. There's nothing left of my place but the concrete slab. Tornado? That must be it. The last things I remember were shutting the windows against the storm brewing outside. Then, the incredible noise. Then, nothing.
Emergency vehicles are arriving. People in coveralls and hard hats are working in the wreckage. I see Grady running toward two of them, barking. I can hear their conversation.
"Hey, isn't that the dog we found with the blind guy?"
"Looks like him, but there wasn't any question about them both bein' gone."
"He looks like he wants us to follow him."
"He may be working with one of the other teams; we should."
As they turn toward him, Grady wheels and heads for what used to be the house across the street from me. I never knew what it looked like, but it is now nothing but a pile of kindling. I've been told that the folks who lived there had a baby and two toddlers. I've also heard they were in the habit of leaving the children alone for long periods. I hope the whole family was somewhere else when this happened.
Grady disappears into the rubble. The rescue workers are not far behind. I can hear them talking as they run up to the mound of debris.
"Hey, you hear that?"
"The dog went in here. Help me get this door out of the road."
As they pull the door aside, Grady emerges dragging a small bundle. The baby is screaming. As one of the men approaches, Grady releases his grip on the blanket and heads back into the wreckage. The man begins an examination of the infant while the other uses a radio. An ambulance appears and the attendants take the tiny victim.
The rescue workers return to the opening, but are turned back by smoke. I can see flames flickering at the top of the debris pile. Grady reappears dragging a small, unconscious, child by its clothing. Although the child looks unharmed, the fur on one side of Grady's head appears singed. I don't see the ear that should be on that side. He returns to the smoking hole as the child is cared for by the paramedics. I hear the rescue workers address them.
"Better move the unit down the street. We got a fire here and they're havin' trouble gettin' the gas mains shut off.
My heart is in my throat as I watch the flames grow. They suddenly become more intense. The rescue workers flatten themselves on the ground. An explosion rocks the scene. Pieces of debris clang against the ambulance. The whole area is obscured by a cloud of dust and smoke.
I'm relieved to see the rescue workers get up and shake the dust off. One of them shouts "Unbelievable!"
Grady is struggling out of the cloud. A small child is clinging to his harness. It's a heart-wrenching scene. Both Grady and the child are limping, but each is helping the other along. The paramedics rush in. Grady's tail is missing and his hind quarters are horribly blistered. He falls as the child is lifted away.
The rescue workers stand uncertainly, looking from the inferno to the ambulance. I can hear their conversation.
"There's no chance of anyone else bein' alive in there. We'd better scram."
"I'm gonna go get that dog."
"The fire's still bein' fed by the gas. The whole bloody thing might blow again. You can't risk getting that close. If he ain't dead yet, he soon will be. Besides, its just a dog."
The speaker receives a look of disgust as his partner says, "your ass, grandma, the least that guy deserves is a proper burial," and turns toward Grady's limp form.
I'm so overcome with emotion that I'm not aware of the scene fading from my sight or of the passage of time. I feel something cold and wet against my hand. I realize my eyes are closed. I open them. Grady is nuzzling my hand. I study him. My head swims. Ears, tail, and fur are all intact. He's the same beautiful animal that leapt out of here. He looks at me. Words form in my head. "What did you expect?" I wrap my arms around his neck, pull him close, and cry into his fur. Words in my head again, " 'S awright, 'S awright."
After I quit bawling, there are more words: "There's another little something I gotta do. This one's not dangerous, so don't wonder where I am. I don't want you to see what I'm doing until I get back. You'll like this, and I want it to be a surprise." I release my grip and, again, nod dumbly. Grady trots off wagging that extravagant tail.
I'm left to wonder where I am. At first, I thought I must be dreaming, but the sequence of events is too linear and there are no dream-signs.
Grady returns with Biff at his side. Now, I know where we are. Biff was my first seeing-eye dog. I had to let him retire eight years ago. The people who provided his retirement home let me know that that he passed on after five years with them.
More words in my head, The dogs are talking about how much fun we're going to have together now that I can see. They don't know the half of it. We'll play ball and roughhouse ok, but we're also going to talk a lot. I didn't think much of—or about—animals while I had my sight. A saint once opined that, until a person loves an animal, part of their soul remains unawakened. Learning to love Biff opened a new world of spiritual experience for me. And, as I learned to appreciate animals, a desire to be able to communicate with them followed. I guess that's what heaven is all about.
John supports animal advocacy groups and works with local animal rescue organizations.