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20th of May

Wonder Dog

Isabelle is our incredible, fabulous, stupendous, amazing, most wonderful yellow Labrador Retriever in the world!  We brought her home as a pup, just eight weeks old.  She chose us.  Responding to a newspaper ad, my husband and I drove an hour north of our home to pick out our first puppy.  Among a litter of eleven pups, it was hard to choose.  We knew we wanted a yellow female so that narrowed the field a bit.  One puppy jumped into my lap as I sat on the barn floor, their home.  I asked the owner, “Which one is this?” 

“Isabelle,” the owner’s daughter replied.

Several minutes later another puppy jumped onto my lap.

“Which one is this?” I asked again.

“That’s Isabelle again,” the owner’s daughter replied again.

After the third repetition, my husband and I decided that Isabelle had chosen us and, therefore, we should choose her.  The check was written, Isabelle was placed in a cardboard box, and off we went to Isabelle’s new home–ours.

That was November, 1996—fourteen and a half years ago.  She was our first “child.”  We were in the process of adopting our children from Russia and we thought having a family dog would be a good thing.  Isabelle has been the most wonderful pet you could imagine.  Needless to say, we were all terribly sad when we learned that Isabelle had cancer on February 15, 2010.  A large tumor had been removed and biopsied revealing an aggressive melanoma.  The canine oncologist told us Isabelle’s grim prognosis—one to four months, tops.  Treatment for Isabelle’s cancer would cost approximately $2000 and would only increase her odds of surviving by fifty percent.  Given that Isabelle was thirteen and a half, well beyond the 10-12 year life expectancy for a lab, we declined treatment.  We discussed medications to keep her comfortable and we went over options for euthanasia.  I sobbed.  Like most dog lovers, my canine friends are more like people than pets to me.  Since I was a child, I have had a dog.  They have played with me, slept with me, and listened to me pour out my heart.  They have let me hug them and, when I cried, they licked my tears.  Dogs were this girl’s best friends.

One to four months.  The clock had started ticking and I was heartbroken.  My husband and I talked with our children.  We discussed the probable scenario and even voted on how we would like to put her to sleep, should she start to suffer.  We chose a burial spot on our 44 acres—up on a hill overlooking our home.  The end of March came and went—then April—then May.  Isabelle still seemed healthy and vibrant.

By June, Isabelle had sprouted thirteen new tumors but was still happy, energetic—for a grandma dog—and pain free.  The vet was not hopeful and still said that we had best prepare ourselves for a sudden decline.  Not wanting to part with her, I decided to start praying for healing.  I figured that if God cared for the sparrows as he says in the Bible, then God cares about yellow labs too.  I started laying hands on Isabelle every night before I went to bed and praying for tumors to fall off.  I prayed:

“God, I know you care about everything you created.  Thank you for creating Isabelle.  She has been such a blessing to our family.  I know you can heal the cancer in her.  I don’t know if you will, but if you wouldn’t mind, would you please heal her?  Of course, I want you to heal her because we love her so much but I also think it would be so cool if she could be a testimony to your love and power.  Heal her and make her a testimony dog.  I will tell everyone this story.  Heal her for your glory.”

I figured I had nothing to lose.  God is God.  He can do what he wants.  I know he loves me and, since I’m His child, I can ask Him for anything.  I figured that He’s at least as loving a parent as I am.  I love to give great gifts to my kids.  I love to make them happy.  I love to thrill them.  I don’t always say yes to their requests but sometimes I surprise them—just because.  Surely, I thought, God feels the same toward me.  I figured my request was a long shot, but I had absolutely nothing to lose—except our wonderful dog if God didn’t intervene.

Day after day, I prayed.  I laid my hands on each tumor and prayed.  I waited.  I watched. By July, tumors started drying up and disappearing.  By September, the thirteen tumors were reduced to three.  Ten tumors had simply disappeared and Isabelle was three months beyond her prognosis.  We celebrated her 14th birthday on September 19.

Today is May 20, 2011—fifteen months and five days since we were told Isabelle would live only one to four months.  She has two small tumors.  Last week she had three.  One tumor on her hind leg was the size of a dime and had begun to ooze.  As soon as I discovered it, I laid hands on it and prayed.  The next morning it was gone. 

I won’t begin to try and explain medically how these tumors are disappearing or how Isabelle can still be with us other than to say that I believe there is a God who created all life and is in control over life and death.  I believe this God loves His whole creation.  I believe this God wants relationship with His created more than anything else and I believe this God is thrilled to thrill. 

I don’t presume to understand all of God’s ways—why sometimes He heals physical disease and sometimes He doesn’t.  I just know that He exists, that He is always good, and that it can never hurt to ask for what you want, especially when it brings Him praise and glory.  Even when God chooses not to heal physically in this realm, He always chooses to heal spiritually.  Had God declined my request to heal Isabelle’s body, I know my loving Father would have healed my grieving heart because, in the grand scheme of things, everything physical passes away but the heart and soul live forever.  The heart and soul will always be God’s priority.  In my prayer for Isabelle, I was just going for the gusto with God. 

When I took Isabelle in for her annual checkup in January, our vet said, “I can’t believe she’s still alive—and that she looks this good!”  I can!  God can do everything and we can ask for anything.  That’s my simple testimony.  I’m just letting the evidence create natural questions and hoping that some will discover their Maker, their Healer, in the process.

How long will Isabelle remain with us?  I don’t know, but I’m thankful for every day we have and I’ve been thrilled to watch God work in such a sweet animal who has given so much love to our family.  I’m even more thrilled to watch the look on human faces when I tell this story!

Praise the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits—who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.   Psalm 103:2-5

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