Oliver is dying.

He’s fourteen, which is pretty old for a Pembroke Corgi. We knew it was coming. About a year ago his back legs sort of stopped working. That happens in Corgis as they age, back problems lead to localized paralysis. One day he was out running around, the next he was dragging himself by the forelegs.. Stacy got him a butt harness, so she could hold up his rear end for their walks. Oliver didn’t seem to mind. He went everywhere, met everyone. Whenever a female dog went into heat his one floppy ear stood up and he started dragging his one-balled body in her direction, ready to do what male dogs are supposed to do when a bitch is in heat. He still had a happy bark for everyone, still dragged himself to the foot of her bed or the door, still guarding the woman who took him in.

Stacy is crying. I can’t console her, can’t even hold her from 400 miles away. She’s too proud, the kind who thinks that she should bear this burden because no one else can. It’s been a bad year. Her cat Rip Rip (from the Ripper , as in Jack) died suddenly last winter. Now it is Oliver’s time. She loves her animals. They are the children she never had, the lovers who never betrayed her. A dog doesn’t care if you gain weight or your boobs start sagging. They don’t cheat on you, not ever. They don't ask for much.. All they want is fresh water, food and a nice long walk, play and talk. Do that and every day they’ll greet you at the door, ears perked and bouncy, ready to play.

Oliver was an old boy when Stacy took him home. He was getting too old to work, and he was too much top dog to put up with the new dog on the block. No, he wanted to be out there, to be number one, doing his part, watching the horses. They fought, and so Stacy took him back to Virginia, where Oliver only need worry about only one human and two cats. Where he could sit there with his one floppy ear and make sure that his Mom happy.

But dogs and cats don’t live so long. They aren’t mummified in our tombs to accompany us onto the journey into the next life. And I’m not even sure there is an afterlife. Heaven may not be a place prepared for us, but rather something we are to build on Earth. For if we live the way the scriptures say we are supposed to live, and build a world full of people who look out for each other, who think to listen before talking, who think to give before taking, who aren’t convinced that theirs is the Only Way, whose to say that would not be Heaven? Is Heaven found a place where people strum harps in puffy clouds, or is Heaven glimpsed when we break bread with our friends and share ideas? Animals perhaps understand Heaven's true nature better than men.

Either way , there are pets in Heaven. And if there is an afterlife when our time comes the creatures who loved us in life will be there waiting to share a new story, a tasty beer and a hug.

When her time comes and Stacy passes from this world, I guarantee you that Oliver will be the first one there. His legs will work again and all he’ll want is a scratch behind the ear, and a chance to go walking with Mom.

I suspect her friends will just decide to tag along. Oliver won’t mind. He doesn’t mind sharing because he has faith. Dogs understand so much more than people.