Angel of God my guardian dear, to whom God’s love commits me here, ever this day be at my side to light, to guard, to rule and guide.
I never expected the guardian angel of grade school prayer to be corporeal. Certainly not a dog.
The stiff fur of a yellow Labrador retriever covered 125 pounds of vibrant muscle. His chest, where the fur whirled in vortex, was broad and deep. Foot pods were thick and black, indifferent to ice and stone. Lower legs were strong with bone, springy with tendon. Lips black as pods fluttered in elastic opposition to podal density. Quivering whiskers rose from black pores. Ears were soft as silk purses, eyes big, brown and soulful — an angelic giveaway.
Moe was pure creature, the far end of the spectrum from pure spirit. Yet he did guardian angel to a T.
By my side? Twenty-four/seven.
Moe was my dictionary for the words dogged and hounded.
I have been dogged. I have been hounded. You do not need to hear the trumpet bay of beagles, bassets and blue ticks to experience hounding. A dog who is yours has no need to track you like a fugitive. He has you. Moe hounded with big brown eyes, deep breath and proximity.
I came to morning not at the alarm clock’s siren summons but at Moe’s silent hounding, head on the side of my bed.
Dog presence softly told the hours of my day: time to eat … time for a walk … time to play in creaturely abandon … time to be creaturely companions.
Waking time, breakfast time, waiting time. Moe was a study in patience. He waited through all the diversions that stood between one place and the next.
“Come on,” I’d say, “we’re going now.” Still he’d lie, giant head between shapely paws, until key in hand I opened the door. Only then would he rise, joint by joint until the whole dog stood, stretched nose to tail and trotted into whatever came next.
For about 1,700 of Moe’s days, what came next was getting into the car, which for Moe was the lifelong effort of a hundred-year-old dog. My car is small coupe, so he squeezed into the back seat like yarn threading a small-eyed needle.
I calculate that he and I drove 100,000 miles together in my little Audi TT. Nine years of Moe time is clocked in its fabric, leather seats worn raw, dog hair woven into carpet, drool stains marking seat back and window ledge. You might have seen us together. He made, I’m told, a memorable sight, with his big head out the window. Parked, I’d often open the hatch to give him air. Resting his head on the seat back, he’d put on the look of the world’s saddest dog as he awaited my return.
Moe was my assistant at four Bay Weekly offices, one in Deale and three in Annapolis. (He also had a Washington, D.C., office, where he assisted husband Bill, but that is their story.) At work, his job was not demanding. Mostly, he’d lie on his cushion under my desk, waiting for lunch, for biscuit, for walk, for the ride home, for whatever tedium and pleasure those hours would bring.
The best of the pleasures were wild romps through the woods with holy terrier Nipper, also dead this dog-bereft year.
Ever this day be at my side … Yes, Moe was.
Moe’s presence was mostly insinuative. But it could be intrusive. He could sound a clarion bark that shook pictures off the walls, deer out of brush and souls out of their hiding place.
As my guard, he was potentially formidable. I never locked my car when Moe was in it, and seldom closed the windows. Who would enter a confined space occupied by a 125-pound likely growling creature with inch-long canine teeth?
I stepped out of the office into secluded lots at all hours, for Moe stood between me and whatever might lurk in the shadows. I slept through the midnight creaks of an empty house fearless of all intruders but ghosts. Moe guarded our house — and all inside — with authority.
But Moe was more than a guard dog. He gave us the light and guidance I was taught to expect from my guardian angel, even one appearing in such unexpected form.
To whom God’s love commits us here …
If those words mean what they say, do they not promise the constancy of God’s love in day-in, day-out presence that is, if not intrusive, perhaps dogged?
If God’s love is immanent in all creation, it may not be so far a leap of faith to find divine outreach in a dog.
Some force for which I can find no better explanation emanated from Moe. The very sight of that big dog broke down the barrier of conventions that separate us from one another. Beautiful women kissed this dog as if they were princesses and he their frog. D.C. suits fell to their tailored knees to embrace him. Old men buried their fingers in his fur and wept for their lost dogs. Dog lovers were the biggest but not the only hearts open to Moe. Friends or strangers, loners and gregarians, people fell for Moe.
“He’s just a dog,” Bill or I would say.
But many people saw more in him.
“He’s a magnificent creature,” a last-days friend pronounced. For even as brain cancer advanced, Moe kept his magic.
For the nine years that were Moe’s eternal present, I felt that magic every day, so it needed no words.
On Moe’s death, it found words.
All the days he was at our side, our lives were lighted, guarded, ruled (dog walk is the unbreakable rule) and guided.
Just a dog opened our hearts.
Sandra Olivetti Martin
Editor and publisher; [email protected]