My husband, Jim, and I wept bitter tears when cancer took Brinkley, our fourteen-year-old lab/German shepherd mix on October 29, 2015. We agreed that we would live the rest of our retirement years without getting another dog. But as the months went by, Jim’s resolve began to waver. His desire for a dog became a point of contention between us.
By the time summer rolled around, Jim was circling ads in the pet section of the local newspaper. I wanted no part of it and hoped he’d find something else to divert his attention—another hobby, or maybe a part-time job. But I never wished for the diversion to come in the form of a catastrophic event.
August 11, 2016. Jim and I stood at our living room window in Baton Rouge watching as lightening struck and thunder boomed with the ferocity of unrelenting incoming artillery. Rain fell in sheets, cloaking our neighbors’ houses behind a veil of gray. The storm drain on the street in front of our home quickly backed up and began belching and bubbling as if choking to swallow the deluge that poured down its throat. Instead of passing within hours, the weather system hovered over us for several days.
On August 12, flooding became a reality many people were forced to face. The next day, a flash-flood emergency was issued for areas along the Amite and Comite Rivers, several miles from our house. Newscasters pleaded for people to evacuate.
We were riveted to the local news on TV and watched with saddened hearts as backwaters filled neighborhoods, inundating large swaths of homes up to the rafters. For some, the water rose so swiftly, they barely had time to escape with their lives. Those who lived beyond the borders of designated flood plains were taken by surprise when their houses flooded.
Even before the National Guard could scramble into action, the Cajun Navy—a flotilla of motorboats owned by caring individuals—put to sea, so to speak, and set to the task of rescuing those in distress. Man or beast, it didn’t matter. If it lived and breathed, these brave men and women did their utmost to save them.
People who were trapped in attics or on rooftops took to social media to cry for help. The Cajun Navy was quick to respond.
We survived the storm unscathed, our home unaffected by the flood. In the days that followed, we went on a quest to find where and how we could help those who had suffered the devastating loss of their homes. The local news put out a plea for donations of various kinds to be brought to Celtic Studios, a movie production facility here in Baton Rouge that had opened its doors to those in need.
Armed with boxes of diapers, wipes, and bags of dog and cat food, we joined the droves of citizens who answered the call. One building at the facility housed not only people, but their pets as well. By the time we’d delivered our bags of kibble, they’d already had a veritable mountain of donated dog and cat chow stacked against the wall.
We responded to a call for help at another facility in Gonzales where hundreds of rescued animals were sheltered. Spending the day there, we walked dogs, cleaned their pens, fed and watered them.
In the end, we decided to pick one family and concentrate our efforts on helping them. Our youngest son’s friend had been flooded with several feet of water. Jim helped gut their house while I washed, dried, and folded at least twenty loads of clothes that reeked of river silt. I sent a few lunches with Jim to feed the homeowner and his buddy, and made a big pan of lasagna to send to the family.
My contribution to the recovery effort was miniscule and felt insignificant when compared to the depth of suffering going on around me. My heart hurt for the family we were helping as well as for all those who had lost so much. I wept every day for weeks.
When a semblance of normality returned to our lives, Jim once again broached the subject of getting another dog. Once again, I balked at the idea.
On a sunny afternoon that October, we went out to lunch at Jason’s Deli, one of our favorite places to have a nice meal, sit, and talk. As I sat across the table from this incredible man whom I’d adored for over forty years, it suddenly occurred to me how selfish I’d been to deny him the simple pleasure in life of having a dog. I surprised him, and myself, by suggesting we go to PetSmart to see if any of the pet adoption agencies had any puppies he’d be interested in.
I meandered the aisles of PetSmart, not really wanting to peruse the perimeter of the store where pets were displayed. As I turned the corner, I saw Jim walking a black puppy on a leash. For several minutes, I followed them. Finally, I approached, squatted, and petted the pup. Admittedly, he was adorable and rather cuddly.
“He’s about eleven weeks old, and his name is Deacon,” my husband said. “Best they can tell, he’s a lab/border collie mix.”
Looking up, I could see in Jim’s eyes that he’d already formed a bond with the little guy. We agreed to adopt Deacon.
As I sat filling out the adoption papers with the pup on my lap, the APAWS volunteer told us that the Cajun Navy had rescued Deacon and three littermates from the August floodwaters.
I resisted the urge to weep as God touched my heart with the sudden realization that Deacon was a gift to me—a token of love, and a living reminder, that even through the storms of life, kindness prevails.
Here’s what Deacon looks like today:
Note: The experience of helping out at the animal shelter after the 2016 flood was the inspiration for my latest novella,