The old dog looked intently into the man’s eyes, silently returning the promise. With that, the man gave the dog a final hug as the veterinarian quietly administered the injection. And then everything just faded away.
Within what seemed like just a moment, or it could have been hours, the dog’s eyes blinked open. The fluorescent lights of the veterinary hospital had been replaced by the glow of a beautiful early morning sun.
The blanket on the floor of the exam room had been replaced by a soft bed of fragrant green grass.
The old dog sat up, feeling no confusion despite the unfamiliar surroundings. Everything should have felt new, and the dog knew he should feel lost, but instead he had the same feeling in his heart as he felt when he was at home, the place where he lived with the man.
Nearby he saw a gathering of dogs, humans, cats, horses, and other animals all waiting together, facing a stand of tall trees. The foliage was so dense that he couldn’t see what secret attraction drew man and beast to the small path that parted the formidable stand.
“You’re here!” a cheerful voice exclaimed. “We’ve been expecting you. You’ll want to head straight over to that line to be restored. You’re in for quite a treat.”
The old dog looked up into the face of a kind woman who reached out to stroke one of his silky ears. She seemed somehow familiar to him, but at the same time he was sure they had never met before.
With a long, lazy stretch, the old dog got up and joined the others in line. After a time, it could have been a minute, it could have been an hour, the dog emerged from the trees.
A treat, indeed. The dog was old no more. He was restored to peak physical condition, with a spring in his step, muscles strong and firm, eyes clear and sharp. His coat was a field of pure white adorned with glossy black spots. He shook his body from nose to tail tip in delight.
“Ahhhh, look at you, boy. You’re so handsome.” The dog glanced around to find the kind woman, who knew exactly how to rub his ears, admiring him with a delighted smile on her face. “Oh, but wait,” she said, “you missed one thing…your foot.”
The dog glanced down at his right front foot. The woman was right, this foot had only three toes instead of four. One of his middle toes had become swollen and painful years ago in his life and it had been removed. “Don’t you want your foot restored?” the kind voice questioned.
Looking directly into her eyes, the dog dropped into a playful bow and wagged his tail in the crazy circle wag reserved by dogs for only the happiest of moments. He trotted over to plant his paw into the soft dirt of a nearby trail as he looked back at the woman one last time, and then loped effortlessly down the path toward a new horizon.
The woman watched the dog as he quickly became a speck in the distance. “Well done, boy,” she whispered, nodding in unspoken agreement. “Well done.”
Sometime in the future, it could have been just a few minutes, but it was really many decades, a tall man emerged from the dense forest on a slender, shaded path. He took a deep breath, reveling in how wonderful he felt. “I think I could run a marathon right now,” he said aloud to himself.
“I believe you can too,” a woman with a kind face laughed as she approached the man. “Is that what you’d like to do? It’s completely up to you now.”
The man returned her smile, feeling that he should know this woman, but unsure how. He stretched his long arms, once again firm with muscle as he looked around at this place that was new to him, but at the same time so oddly familiar.
Just as he was about to respond to the woman, the morning sun rose just enough to shine beams of gentle light on a nearby path. The man stared down at the soft dirt and saw a set of paw prints – four toes, four toes, four toes, three toes.
With a grin of realization spreading across his face, the man’s eyes locked onto the prints and without hesitation he started down the path, following the mismatched paw prints at a strong, steady jog. “I know exactly what I want to do and where I need to go,” the man called out over his shoulder.
“I have a promise to keep.”
The woman watched in the warmth of the dawning light until the man became a speck on a distant, new horizon.