Mr. Sterling was dying. He was a very elderly man with heart disease and cancer. He had only a few days, or hours, left to live in his bed at the Yakima nursing home.
Linda Yanez, one of my students, was a nurse at the facility. She called me with an unusual request: "Mr. Sterling used to have a Great Dane that he really loved," Linda explained. "He can't talk anymore, but when he could, he would tell us all these stories about his dog. We were wondering if it would be possible for you to find a Great Dane to come visit him while he's still with us. When he could still talk, he said he really wished he could see his dog again."
"What kind of Dane was it? Black? Fawn? Harlequin?" I asked.
"I think he said once it was black and white. It was a male."
"Give me a few hours," I said. "I think I can help."
I hung up and immediately called Mary Ellen Deprey who, at the time, was a Yakima breeder of exceptionally sweet-tempered and gorgeous Great Danes. Mary Ellen had a female Harlequin (black and white) named Lily, whom I was quite sure would fit the role. We agreed to meet at the facility that evening, after visiting hours, when we would quietly bring the dog to his bedside withou causing a big scene.
The lights were dim and the hallways were quiet when we arrived. Linda met us at the door and ushered us straight to Mr. Sterling's room. Lily followed silently in tow.
The old gentleman was hooked to tubes and only half awake. He was barely aware of what was going on around him, and his eyes, half closed, seemed to be focused on nothing in particular.
But then he saw the tall dog at his bedside. With great effort, he turned his head slightly, opened his eyes a bit wider, and raised a shaky hand from his bed. We guided his hand onto the head of the dog who patiently stood still. Mr. Sterling's eyes began to water, and a glimmer of a smile played at his lips. He said nothing we could hear, but his facial expression spoke volumes.
After just a couple minutes, he was ready to return to that place he'd been before we arrived. He faded back into it, restfully, after seeing "his" beloved dog once again.
The nursing home called me the next day to tell me that Mr. Sterling had died peacefully in his sleep that night. He was probably dreaming about a Harlequin Great Dane with angel wings.