When Sarah’s beloved chocolate lab Sadie began acting strange, she took her to the vet. “What seems to be the problem?” asked Lance, a disinterested veterinarian assistant. He checked his phone while Sarah listed off a few odd behaviors, including circling the yard, barking at the moon, and licking Sarah’s face while she was trying to sleep. “That sounds like normal dog activity to me,” Lance said without looking up. “It’s not normal for Sadie. She’s hasn’t acted this way since she was a puppy. She’s usually very calm and quiet. Are you listening to me?” She pulled his phone down to see he was watching Tik Tok videos. “Really? Is Dr. Jowers available?” “No, she’s tied up all day. Have you had any changes in your routine?” “Well, yeah, I got a new job.” “See, that’s probably it. You just need to give her time to adjust to you being gone more often.” “My job is remote. I’m home more now than I’ve ever been.” “Oh.” “Sometimes she just stares up into the sky, like she’s star gazing. It’s almost as if...no, it’s stupid.” “What?” Lance asked, showing his first sign of interest. “As if she’s communicating with someone.” “You think your dog is talking to someone in space?” Lance finally put away the phone. “See, I told you it was stupid.” Sadie was laying on the floor studying Sarah and Lance. “No, it’s not...can you hold on a second. I just need to...hold on,” Lance said as he slipped out the door. “Now they’re going to have me committed for caring about you,” Sarah said to Sadie. Sadie blinked, then said, “I won’t let that happen.” Sarah jumped in her seat. “Did you just...” ‘Talk? Yes.” “How are you...when did you...how?” “It was the strangest thing. I was praying...” ‘Wait, you pray?” “Yeah, I pray for you all the time. What do you think I do all day, just sit around doing nothing?” “Well, honestly, yes.” “I’m worried sick about you. Your life is...I’m sorry to say this, a hot mess.” “Alright, it’s not...yeah, well, I have a lot on my plate, and my mind. Things you couldn’t even possibly comprehend.” “Try me.” “Like settling my parents’ affairs. Paying the mortgage. Starting a new job. You know, adulting.” “Wow, sounds super tough. Look Sarah, do you mind if I call you Sarah? Or do you prefer master?” “Sarah’s fine.” “Great, Sarah, I’m going to cut to the chase. I prayed to God that I’d be able to talk with you and now we’re talking.” Dr. Jowers came into the room. “Now, what exactly is going on? Lance seemed very confused.” Sarah grabbed Sadie’s leash. “You know what, everything is fine. Yeah, false alarm. Sadie wanted a little more of my attention. Thanks Dr. Jowers. I’ll bring her back in if I notice anything…unusual.” Sarah pulled Sadie out of the room while Dr. Jowers looked puzzled. “Okay, tell me everything,” Sarah said once they were in the car. “My name is Zirkle for starters.” “Zirkle?” “Yeah, it’s German for guard, one who circles. I come from a long line of protectors. My ancestors hid Jews from the Nazis. I’m pretty proud of that heritage” “How do you know your family roots? I don’t even know where my family is from.” “Ancestry.com. Don’t worry, I used your ex-boyfriend’s credit card.” “Oh good...wait what?” “There’s a lot I need to tell you before this wears off.” “Your ability to talk will wear off?” “No, your ability to hear. You don’t know how long I’ve been trying to talk to you. It’s so good that you finally can hear me. Thank Dog for that.” “Thank who?” “Oh, I mean God. Yeah, God is a dog. Pretty clever, huh? Spelling it backwards. Humans never suspected God could be anything other than like them. But it’s rather obvious God is a dog. We love you unconditionally. We protect you 24/7. We are humble, letting you believe you’re the ones in charge. We walk with you every day and listen to all your problems. Talk about having a lot on your plate.” “So let me get this straight. God is a dog. You prayed to this Dog God that I could hear you, and this could wear off any minute.” “Good girl. Very good listening,” Zircle said like a human talking to a dog, except she was a dog talking to a human. “Why? Why would God...Dog...grant your prayer? Why now after almost fifteen years?” “Dog is a good God, and Dog God knew you needed this.” “Did I? I’m starting to wonder if I should be committed.” “That’s the problem with you humans, you’re always trying to lock things up. Animals. People. You don’t need to be committed, Sarah. You need to hear my message: Dog is love.” “You mean, God is love?” “Same difference. Listen Sarah, you need to open up your heart. Let people in. I’ve seen how you build up walls. You keep yourself busy constantly, running from thing to thing. You hardly ever just rest, and when I try to lick your face, you’re always pulling away. Let yourself be loved.” “I can’t believe I’m getting love advice from my dog. But if I’m honest, this is better than any advice my therapist gave me.” “It’s because you and your therapist are both human, you have the same blind spots. I see what you can’t see. You’re enough, as you are. You don’t need a guy, you don’t need more money or things. You just need to slow down and be. Like me.” “So, where did you get all this from? Did Dog God tell you to say this to me?” “It’s in the Doggie Bible.” “There’s a Doggie Bible?” “It’s not a written Bible. You may have noticed I have paws. Kind of hard to write without fingers. No, Dog is more of an oral culture.” Sarah pulled into the driveway of her house, but didn’t get out of the car. “This is really blowing my mind. It’s a lot to process. Basically everything I thought I knew was wrong.” “Not all of it. At important times in history, God would share Dog wisdom with humanity. Where do you think Buddha and Jesus and Gandhi got all their knowledge?” “From their dogs?” “Exactly! You’re a quick study. Remember Gandhi said, ‘the greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.’ Do you think he came up with that himself? His dog talked to him, just as I’m talking to you.” “So you’re saying I’ll be the next Gandhi?” “Slow down tiger. I’m just a messenger, not a miracle worker. For some reason, you’ve been granted the gift to understand me. It could be just for you to know that in all the universe, you are seen. Or maybe you’ll write a book on Dog wisdom for humanity that will teach humans to be more humane. It’s not for me to say.” They went inside to finish their conversation. Zircle cuddled up against Sarah on the couch. “One last thing, Sarah. There’s one other reason I prayed to communicate with you.” “There’s more? I’m not sure I can take much more.” “I’m fifteen years old. I’m not getting any younger.” “Hey, you’re still agile for a senior dog.” “True, but something is happening to my body. It’s breaking down. I don’t think I have too much time left.” “Don’t say that Sadie, um, Zircle. I want you to see me get my act together, get married, have kids.” “I don’t make the rules. I’m just here to serve my master.” . “Tell God I need you. I can’t live without you.” “You know you can talk to God yourself. You’ll be fine. Remember what I taught you. I’ll always be in your heart. And I’ll be watching from the heavens to look after you. Just look up and talk to me anytime.” “Will I see you again in heaven?” “I mean, technically heaven is for dogs, but we do make some exceptions. I’m kidding, of course I’ll see you. But in heaven, the last will be first, the servant will become the master, so the tables will be turned. Don’t worry though, I’ll do until you as you have done to me.” “That means I will be good and spoiled.” “Exactly.” They fell asleep on the couch. Sarah woke up the next morning, but Zircle didn’t. Sarah buried her in the backyard, but she knew her spirit wasn’t in the ground. It was among the stars watching over her. # “Who’s that?” Anabelle asked, holding a picture frame she took off an end table. “That’s me with Sadie, I mean, Zirckle.” “Zirckle? That’s a funny name.” “It’s German, like us,” she said, pulling out the folder with her Ancestry results. “Well, we are part German, part Scandinavian, part Scottish. And you are part Puerto Rican like your father.” “I wish I would have known Zircle.” “Me too. She would have loved you.” Just then a chocolate lab puppy with floppy ears plopped into Anabelle’s lap. “At least we have Maya.” “Yes, make sure you take really good care of her. Dogs are very important creatures.” “Is that why you are writing a book about them?” “Yes, I’m going to tell the world what I’ve learned from Zircle. OK, brush your teeth, it’s bedtime.” After Sarah tucked Annabelle into bed and kissed her husband goodnight, she went outside, looked up into the sky, and talked to God.
Shawn Casselberry sees the world in stories. He's written fiction and nonfiction books and is currently working on a book of short stories called, "Strange Fire." He's the co-founder/editor for Story Sanctum and lives in the Chicago area with his wife Jen and their introverted dog Colin. You can check out more of his writing at: www.shawncasselberry.com.