It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.
The asparagus popped and so did the bugs. We built a pond for irrigation and it leaked. Farmers' markets began and we were behind the eight ball – again.
Tom and I drove home separately from our first market of the season. We’d made a little money and practiced setting up our booth so we considered the day a success. Tom texted me this message:
I’m on the way to the vet. Found a puppy. You’ll be impressed.
I met him at the vet. Cuddled in his lap lay a tiny brown and black bundle with a pushed-in nose.
“He ran across the road in front of me. I got out of my car and he came right to me. You see his back paw, it’s mangled. Looks like it was wrapped in barbed wire.”
Tom with Barnabas and a photo of the puppy's bad back paw.
After we’d spent more than half the money we’d made at the market, we took him home to the farm and our Cracker-Barrel-sized front porch. It’d been a few years since adopting a puppy and we hadn’t made any preparations, so through the first few days of howling, crying, and general mayhem among our other animals, we got almost no sleep.
“What shall we name him?”
We decided on Barnabas. He’s a character in the Bible whose name means Son of Encouragement.
That was a step of faith.
Within a few days we heard another howling in our yard. A second puppy moved onto our porch. We named him Cooper.
Cooper, the pooch from the woods.
Puppies are almost the best thing on God’s green earth. Tails wagged each time we came to the house or visited the porch. The terrible two terrorized our three rescued cats and annoyed our standard poodle, Sam.
After a hard day's work, Tom and I would lie on our backs in the front yard and let the puppies lick our heads and jump on our chests. It was by far the favorite part of our day.
Cooper and Barnabas and the best part of our day.
Since we’d made no money in a very long time, we tried not to spend much money on them. But puppies need collars and medicines and shots. We kept them in a pen on the front porch, but as time went on, we’d let them run in the yard as we worked. One day the dogs disappeared. After frantically calling and searching for hours, all three of them ran up from the pasture in front of our house.
It looked like a scene from Homeward Bound – Sam leading the way with Cooper nipping at his heels. Barnabas limped behind, barely keeping up, all three wagging their tails with smiles on their muzzles.
There were several of those days where one minute all dogs were accounted for and the next minute they were gone. We spent half of our time farming and half of our time running after dogs and half our time caring for my mom. (I know there are too many halves – you get my gist.)
I’d planned a weekend trip at the end of May with my daughter. Sure, I’d miss my family, but most of all I knew I’d miss those puppies. A few days into my trip Tom called.
“Cooper is sick. He can’t hold anything down. I don’t know what to do.” Tom tried feeding him rice and water from a dropper.
A holiday weekend, we didn’t even know if we could get our vet and we knew we couldn’t afford one. I tried to call, but another vet in a different city was on call and we didn’t know him.
Cooper died. Tom buried him in our yard wearing his bright red collar. The deed was done before I arrived home.
Sadness fell on our farm. But somehow Barnabas still made us smile. Often, he’d hide under the porch – refusing to come when called. Eventually, he’d obey. And as he loped onto the porch and into our lives, we developed a warm spot in our hearts just for him.
Barnabas continued to grow and fill out. He got to almost 30 pounds and began to look like a shepherd. He chased Sam and chewed on our cat, Brie. (Who by the way likes it ….) Often, we’d take Sam over to our other field where our chickens, pigs, and livestock guardian dogs. We decided to let Barnabas ride along, too. Letting them loose with our guardian “girls” Molly and Lacey was the highlight of their little doggy lives.
One day, as we drove along our dirt road on the way to feed the livestock and visit the “girls,” we heard yelping. Barnabas decided to jump out of the truck and we ran over his legs. Gently, Tom picked him up and cradled him in his lap as we drove to the vet for an emergency visit.
“The back leg is broken, and this front paw may have permanent nerve damage. He’ll need to stay here for the night and we’ll get a good look at it in the morning.”
We drove home in silence. That night, the lack of whining and general porch mayhem kept us both awake.
The next day we picked up our puppy. One back paw mangled by barbed wire, one in a cast. His front paw wouldn’t work. He had only one working front leg. Each time we looked at him, our heart hurt.
The vet encouraged us to keep him quiet, so we confined him and administered medications and watched and waited.
An amazing thing has happened. Barnabas is adjusting. He’s running and smiling and chewing on Sam’s ear and Brie’s neck.
And he’s wagging his very big tail.
He’s gonna make it. And he’s happy about it.
So are we.
Farming is hard on the body. Caregiving for my mom is hard on the heart. And then there’s Barnabas. So many times I’ve been so discouraged I’ve not only wanted to quit, I didn’t even care if I quit. Not just farming, but life.
I think the Lord sent us those puppies. Because through loss and gain we experience both deep love and profound grief.
Barnabas, Son of Encouragement, has lived up to his name.
And that is a tale of a tail of two puppies.
Barnabas after his cast was removed.