And a child Shall Lead Them

by Sally Kirk Goodman

As a child who grew up on a farm, self-efficiency was a learned habit. Not one that I remembered learning, but learned just the same. We had a garden, raised chickens, and fed off a steer or two for the freezer each year. No one went hungry. No one did without. We learned to can and freeze produce, and we took care of the animals whether they are pets or future meals. If we were sick, our parents took care of us, and if need be we occasionally went to the doctor – but not often. By the same token, I never ever remember taking an animal to a vet. We occasionally sought advice from people who were “good with animals,” and sometimes if an animal was too sick or too injured for us to help restore it to health, the animal was “put down.” Still an expression I find odd. We didn’t necessarily witness it, but we knew the animal was being “put out of its misery.” Another phrase I thought particularly odd.

Fast forward almost three decades, and I’m a mother with kids of my own – still raising a garden, canning, feeding off cattle, etc. with a whole menagerie of pets and animals. Fortunately, my husband’s mother, our Nana, was very “good with animals” and doctored many a kitten and puppy back to good health. As for kids, we probably took ours to the doctor a little more often than we had been taken, but the animals – well, the animals still didn’t go to the vet. And just like with our childhood pets, we did what we could to help restore their health with Nana’s help. If we couldn’t, then we took care of them as humanely as possible and protected our children as much as possible. Life went on. That is until our beagle Jim was run over.

Before I go into the full story of Jim, here’s a little back history. Not only was our Nana good with animals but so was our daughter Hannah. She was the animal whisperer. Her instincts for all things breathing was excellent for someone her age, and animals adored her. She constantly rescued kittens and puppies until her daddy would say, “No more.” It was evident she had a gift, and as her parents we wanted to foster it, but soon there was just “no room in the inn.” Then an elderly neighbor passed away and bequeathed his rabbit hunting dogs to my husband. We couldn’t say no, so two more beagles came to live with us. And, yep, Hannah, adored them – particularly Jim, and Jim loved Hannah.

Sometime after the inheritance, we moved to our new home. It was wonderful to have more room for our four kids to spread out, but the house was directly on one of the busiest highways in Fulton County, Kentucky, instead of way back off the road like our little home in the Brownsville community. We had never penned our dogs up, and they were beagles – hunting dogs that loved to run. Well, it doesn’t take a genius to see where this story is headed.

One day, we returned home to find Jim just laying in the yard. When I saw him, my heart feared the worst, and I instantly looked to see where Hannah was. It was too late; she had already spotted him. My husband and Nana looked him over carefully with Hannah’s assistance. Walter didn’t think his injuries were life threatening, so the decision was made to fix him a bed close to the house and watch him for the night.

Hannah said, “Daddy, I think he needs to go to the vet.”

Her daddy responded with, “Let’s see how he is in the morning.” Hannah wasn’t comforted, nor was I. This was a Saturday, and I knew in this rural area there were no vets open on Sunday. I hugged Hannah and left her there to comfort Jim.

By the next morning, Jim seemed worse, but we dressed for church and left him in his little box there by the door. Hannah was unusually quiet, and I knew she was worried. The other children were concerned, too, but not like her. As a mother I was faced with a dilemma – an injured pet and a long-held practice of taking care of animals ourselves. Except this time, I didn’t think we were capable of giving the little beagle what he needed even if his injuries weren’t life threatening. The kids went into their Sunday school classes, and I tried to keep my mind on the adult lesson, but my thoughts kept going back to Jim and Hannah.

When the classes ended and the children came into the sanctuary for the worship service, I took my usual place at the piano and starting playing the prelude. We followed our customary order of worship. Then we came to the part of the service we call “joys and concerns.” Several joys were shared. Our neighbor’s child would be home for a visit soon. Another one was thankful for a new grandchild on the way. Then people began to share their concerns for neighbors, friends, and family members who were either going through hard times or bad health. Just as prayer requests began to cease and our preacher asked for any other concerns, I heard a sweet, little, familiar voice say, “Please pray for Jim.”

Silence followed. No one in the congregation except close family members knew who Jim was. The preacher gave me a questioning look, and I replied, “Jim’s her little beagle. He’s hurt. We think he may have been run over yesterday.”

The preacher nodded; we bowed our heads, and he thanked the Lord for the joys that had been shared and for the sick and afflicted – and he closed his prayer with a special request for Jim’s restoration to good health. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

It was difficult to follow the rest of the sermon. Hannah was sitting next to me and twisting a little handkerchief over and over and occasionally dabbing at her eyes. Her heart was breaking, and so was mine. I spent most of the sermon asking for guidance and a healing for Jim. The ride home was even quieter than the ride to church, but thankfully Jim was still holding on when we got there.

The afternoon passed with no improvement but no decline in Jim’s well-being. Hannah stayed by his side. We had supper and readied ourselves for bed. We said our usual good nights, lots of hugs and kisses and giggles. Hannah came into my room and asked, “Momma, will you pray with me?” Of course, I would.

She started her prayer by thanking God for a beautiful day and all the family members – Hannah’s prayers often got quite lengthy during this stage, but this night she cut it short. Instead, she asked with all the faith in her little girl’s heart, “God, if Jim can’t get well, please let him go quickly and with no more pain.” Wow, what a mature, unselfish prayer for such a little girl. She went to bed, and I waited up for Walter. He’s a farmer and had worked late. As soon as he hit the door, I recounted the prayer requests at church and her bedtime prayer. Without hesitation, he said, “I’ll take him to the vet in the morning.” And so he did.

Jim had to stay a few days at the vet’s clinic but did recover with only a faint limp to remind us of the faith and unselfishness of a little girl’s prayers. Oh, and now … well, now, we have a running tab at the local veterinary clinic.

Hannah’s all grown up and is still very “good with animals.” Plus, she graduated from a local university with a Bachelor of Science degree in Animal Health Technology – but that’s not how she makes her living. She was unwilling to relocate to a more metropolitan area where she could make a more profitable living with her degree. Instead, she went back to school and completed an Associate Degree to become a Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant, works in a nearby town, and lives close to the rest of us. But don’t worry: every neighbor and friend in a hundred mile radius calls on her if they’re not sure what to do with a sick or injured pet. If she can help them, she does. However, she never hesitates to say, “You need to take them to the vet.” If you can’t take them, she’ll take them for you. If you need her to drop by to check on their recovery, she’ll do that, too. And knowing my Hannah, she prays over every one of them.