Millie's story actually begins in Africa thousands of years ago. The indigenous people began to value the abilities of a group of little creatures they called "bush things", or in their native language, "Basenjis". Basenji is a name for a breed of dogs. It is believed that the Basenjis were one of the first breeds of dogs to be domesticated by humankind. However, for anyone who has had the privilege of being friends with a basenji, he/she knows that it was probably the "bush things" that domesticated humankind.
In the early 90s, the Roanoke, Virginia newspaper, "The Roanoke Times" ran a weekly article called the "Pet of the Week " (the newspaper still offers that as a weekly article). One week's pet was a little basenji girl. Upon seeing the basenji in the newspaper, a dear and loving friend of mine, Karen Azar went to the city shelter and adopted the basenji. At the shelter Karen learned that the basenji the staff called "Squeaky", had been adopted twice before and was returned for unknown reasons. She then and there proclaimed the basenji girl to be "Millie".
Shortly after adopting Millie, Karen was diagnosed with cervical cancer. Millie was a wild little puppy who kept Karen busy with all her antics. Millie would chew on Karen's shoes, eat her eyeglasses, nip her and then run and hide. Karen's cancer progressed rapidly and, when it became debilitating, I moved in with her and Millie. After months of being nipped by Millie and put through her "ornery-ness", Millie and I started to be pals. Unfortunately for Karen, she had a form of cancer that was virulent. When the realization that her life on this earth was waning set in, Karen and I, with the help of Father Jim Parke, made her final arrangements. She chose to stay in her own home to die. We had the help of the Good Samarian Hospice and Lewis-Gale Clinic Housecalls nursing staff.
It was at this time that Millie's behavior changed. She wanted to be in the room or on the bed with Karen at all times. She was loving and very careful not to cause Karen pain. The night before Karen's passage, Millie refused to eat, go out for walks; she just curled up in the corner of the room. The instant that Karen breathed her final breath and left this earthly realm, Millie came out of the corner. She went to eat, and drank a gallon of water.
Before the funeral people arrived to pick up Karen's remains, I took Millie in to see Karen one more time. Millie ignored the body. She didn't try to get into bed or gain Karen's attention. Millie knew that Karen was no longer present in the room.
During a two and a half year period, I lost my Mother, my Father, my Uncle, and my best friend. The stress of teaching Behavioral Disordered students, grieving, being the primary care person for my Mother, Father, and Karen took its toll. I had a "meltdown". St. Francis called his period of depression and emotional angst "The Dark Night". I experienced a lot of dark nights. It was Millie who nurtured me in her own way. She was not to be ignored. If I'd forget to feed her, she would bring her dish to my feet and drop it. She did the same thing with her water bowl. She pestered me again and again to go out for walks by dragging her lease around the house. At night she would sleep with me and get under the covers. When I tried to ignore the alarm clock ringing, she would gently, but persistently, kick me in the back until I got out of the bed.
I cried often. Millie would seat herself as close to me as she could and comfort me. I'm not sure I would have survived mentally if it weren't for that little dog. Millie was called back to Creation in 2000. I mourn her still. It is because of and in honor of her love, loyalty, ornery-ness, and devotion that I started Millie's Ministries.
People all over the world have similar relationships to animals and other life forms.
Love is indeed, universal!
Oh God, at the very center
From whom all being ripples forth,
Bring us back to the circle
There to be loved.
There to be healed.
There to be enlivened.
------ A Celtic Prayer