“Chico! Let’s go!” Tim hollered at the Red Heeler from the truck door, waiting for him to climb into the backseat. The dog trotted his way across the parking lot towards the vehicle. Lynn, nearly right behind him, reached for the passenger door handle when Chico barreled headfirst into the rear tire.
“Oh, Cheek! You okay?” she knelt down to rub his head and he shook off the blow.
“What happened?” Tim asked from inside the cab.
“Cheek just ran straight into the tire like it was invisible or something,” Lynn answered, perplexed. He jumped up into the truck and settled in for the ride as she climbed up into her seat and looked at Tim. “He’s been acting a little weird lately, but that was a little more than a little weird.” Tim started the truck, giving no response, and they headed out to have dinner with some friends.
As the night came to a close the couple headed outside for the truck.
“Tim, does Chico look dizzy to you?” Lynn watched the staggering gait of his four legs meandering back and forth down the driveway. “He’s acting drunk or something. Like he doesn’t know where he’s going.”
“He’s been weird for a while now,” Tim affirmed.
“He just looks like he feels sick,” she added. “His eyes look a little glossy like they’re glazed over.”
“We can take him in to the vet tomorrow and just see. He needs his shots updated anyway,” Tim concluded.
The friends waved goodnight from the front porch and as Lynn walked towards the truck, Chico plowed into the back of her legs.
“Chico! My goodness!” He scrambled and whimpered for a moment and she helped him up into the truck.
Early the next morning they were the first to enter Dr. Dickson’s veterinary clinic. They had seen him a couple of times prior for their horses but not yet for Chico.
“Shots update, yes?” Dr. Dickson confirmed.
“That’s right,” Tim said. “We think he might be feeling a little sick lately, too. Just been acting a little strange.”
“Alright, we’ll have a good look,” the doctor answered, ushering them back into the examination room. Tim snapped his fingers telling Chico to jump up on the table and lie down. The white-haired doctor tinkered with a few utensils before beginning with a simple flashlight which he shined in each eye. He performed a couple of other small, simple tests over the next 30 seconds before removing his glasses and looking at Tim and Lynn.
“How long has he been blind?” the man asked plainly. As though it was a pre-existing understanding.
“What did you say?” Tim asked, startled. He slowly uncrossed his arms and Lynn rose from her seat.
“I said how long has he been blind? You mean you didn’t know?”
The couple gawked at him with mouths agape, minds reeling.
“His eyes aren’t dilating at all,” the vet continued. “It appears that he has been blind for some time already. I naturally assumed you had already known by now.”
Floored by the news, they could barely formulate coherent responses. Tim’s memory scanned back over several months, recalling countless times when Chico appeared to be merely disobedient. He realized now that he actually couldn’t see to obey him. All of the wrestling and playing they used to do—Chico hadn’t wanted to do any of it for months. Tim’s eyes welled up with tears. Lynn sat back down, staring in awe at the floor.
“How could we have possibly missed that?” she asked out loud. “I mean, we knew something was wrong, but for him to be blind?!” She looked up at Tim’s back, incredulous at the extreme oversight.
The following weeks were ridden with the internal struggle of confusion over this horrible news. Night after night the couple laid hands on the dog and begged God to heal him. They would lie on the floor staring into his eyes, searching for any sign of change. Why would God allow him to go blind? “We aren’t finished with our journey!” they cried out. “He still has to walk on the road.”
The heart-wrenching agony of Chico’s loss of vision reckoned their vision at a loss on this homestretch. With the destination of their journey only a few months away they couldn’t fathom how he would finish, least of all the purpose in it.
Lynn posted the news on their Facebook page, asking for a community of prayer for Chico’s prognosis. Soon after, friends sent a sum of money their way asking that Chico be taken to see a specialist. The same results came back with a specific diagnosis: degenerative retina disease.
“He isn’t even five years old,” said Joe, scouring the veterinary reports. “This kind of diagnosis is not usually seen in dogs until several years older.” Joe Wright was a retired veterinarian to the local Shelby area and newfound friend to Tim and Lynn. With a strong investment of heart and a personal, academic intrigue to learn more, he contacted his colleagues at the North Carolina State University Vet School.
Two days later Tim’s phone lit up with a call from Joe.
“Tim, I have an appointment scheduled next Tuesday with the Vet School to have some tests run on Chico,” he said. Tim put Joe on speakerphone so Lynn could hear. “The students have heard the story and are interested in seeing if anything can be done for him.”
“Sounds great, Joe,” Tim replied.
“They are also interested in hearing you speak about your ministry,” Joe continued. “There is a class meeting that evening at six o’clock and if you would like to share your story with them, they would love to have you.”
“Wonderful,” Tim answered. “We’d love to.”
The following Tuesday they made the trip to the university and proceeded with the tests. Chatting with Joe and his wife, Linnie in the waiting room, the veterinarian called them back to read the results. Seated in a small consultation room the two couples listened intently, daring to hope for any wavering in the first diagnosis.
“The results confirm that it is, in fact, degenerative retina disease,” the vet began, pausing for any initial reaction. The room waited for him to continue. “Unfortunately it is purely genetic and entirely irreversible.”
A collective disappointed exhale released among them. Lynn’s heart sank. She hadn’t fully recognized the rising of her hopes for this visit. Tim balled his fists, unable to keep his frustration at bay. He still wasn’t understanding. If God could heal his horse without him even asking, why wouldn’t He give his dog his sight back?
“There is one peculiar finding resulting from these tests,” the vet continued. Their ears perked. The vet looked up and held their gaze. “The optic nerve is generally in the shape of a circle, both in humans and in animals. Across the board, all optic nerves are round.” He stared back down at the papers in his hands before moving along in his delivery. “Chico’s optic nerve, however, is not round.” The doctor pulled a full-page photo out of the stack of papers. “In all my 40 years as a practicing veterinarian, I have never seen anything like this.” He placed the photo down in front of Tim and Lynn.
The photo depicted the X-ray imaging of the two eyeballs, revealing the expected degeneration of both retinas. There, appearing in the center of both images was Chico’s optic nerve.
In the perfect shape of a heart.
Linnie was the first to speak up. “Are those hearts?!” she said in a stunned southern drawl. Lynn’s mouth hung open, looking over at Linnie in a wordless concurrence of shock and awe. Tears spilled over and down Tim’s cheeks and he held his breath to stifle a sob.
“I guess you could say that this dog sees with his heart,” the doctor said warmly, smiling softly.
“I’ve never heard of anything like it,” said Joe, recalling his own years of history in the field.
The cowboy couple remained silent, both now in tears at the overwhelming implications of this finding. An implosion of resentment at the diagnosis was giving way to a renewed purpose of testimony of Chico’s life. His incomparable obedience had brought a powerful visual to hundreds and hundreds of onlookers, impeccably attuned to only the commands of his master. He now would continue with an added layer of depth—his dependence upon strictly his master’s voice.
The weight of this new revelation rendered the couple to minutes of speechlessness, utterly wrecked by the unwavering purposes of God.
“With your permission,” the vet addressed Tim, “I would greatly like to use this as a teaching example to the students in our department.”
Tim looked at him through blurred vision and nodded, smiling graciously.