Pistol
Guideposts|August/September 2021
He was the dog I always wanted. But he came with baggage, a little like me
JOHN HANEY
A crisp autumn morning at Charles­ ton Air Force Base. American flags waved gently in the breeze.

“Be safe, babe,” I said to my wife, Ashley, holding her tight. You’d think these goodbyes would get easier. Ash­ ley and I were Air Force pilots. This was the third time in less than 18 months that one of us had been deployed. Ash­ ley would be on a four­month tour of duty, flying C-17s in the Middle East.

“Good luck with the pup,” she said. A look of concern crossed her face. “You’re going to need it. I’ll be pray­ ing for you.”

Ashley was referring to Pistol, the five­year­old golden retriever we’d adopted just 12 hours earlier.

I’d been asking God to bring a dog into my life for eight years, ever since my beloved childhood dog, Shammy, had died of old age.

Maybe Pistol wasn’t the right dog. He’d looked so sweet in the picture from the rescue agency. He turned out to be a 75-pound terror.

Picking him up from the foster family, Ashley and I watched Pistol crash around the family’s living room, knocking over furniture and ignor­ ing commands. We should have paid more attention when the family’s dog hid behind the sofa every time Pistol tried to get her to play.

Finally the family got him on a leash and turned him over to us. He pulled so hard, he almost passed out.

“We forgot to tell you,” they called out as we wrestled Pistol into our car. “He has fleas!”

Ashley and I barely slept that night, thanks to the jangle of dog tags as Pis­tol scratched incessantly.

Now I would be alone with him for four months.

Most of my life, I had one very clear objective: becoming a husband and father in a loving, stable family. The op­posite of the turbulent household I’d had when I was growing up. I wanted to be a devoted husband and affec­tionate dad who taught his kids well.

Ashley and I had been married a lit­tle more than a year. We didn’t have kids yet. If owning a pet counts as pa­ rental training, I was already failing. What had I gotten myself into?

I returned home from seeing Ashley off and opened the front door with trepidation. Pistol was in the living room, scratching. He saw me and rocketed over, knocking me against the door. Just as quickly, he bounded away and crashed around the room.

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