I AM WRITING THIS LETTER TO YOU FROM DEATH ROW, THE LAST DAY OF MY LIFE. YES, IN JUST A FEW SHORT HOURS, I WILL WALK DOWN THAT LONG CORRIDOR, TO THE GAS CHAMBER. NO PRIEST WILL ESCORT ME, GIVING ME COMFORT OR PRAYERS FOR MY SOUL. NO FAMILY WILL VISIT ME OR EVEN MISS ME WHEN I AM GONE. MY "FAMILY" ABANDONED ME LONG AGO. AS A MATTER OF FACT, I DOUBT ANYONE WILL EVER GIVE ME OR MY DEATH EVEN A PASSING THOUGHT AFTER TODAY. THE SADDEST FACT IN THIS WHOLE MATTER IS THAT I AM INNOCENT. I HAVE DONE NO CRIME, YET TODAY, I WILL DIE IN THE GAS CHAMBER.

I KNOW THAT OTHERS HAVE SAID "I AM INNOCENT", ALL THE WAY TO THEIR DEATHS, BUT IN MY CASE, IT IS THE TRUTH. LET ME TAKE YOU BACK THROUGH MY LIFE, TELL YOU MY STORY, PLEASE TAKE THE TIME TO READ IT, THEN YOU DECIDE FOR YOURSELF WHETHER OR NOT I DESERVE TO DIE.

I DO NOT KNOW MY PARENTS. I DOUBT THAT THEY EVEN REMEMBER ME. I DO NOT THINK THAT MY PARENTS KNEW EACH OTHER FOR VERY LONG. MY BIRTH WAS JUST A TRAGIC BEGINNING OF A TORMENTED LIFE, CONCEIVED BY STRANGERS. I KNOW THAT MY FATHER WAS NOT AROUND FOR MY BIRTH, AND MY MOTHER DID NOT STICK AROUND FOR VERY LONG AFTER. I GUESS I CANNOT REALLY BLAME MY MOTHER, SHE JUST "COULD NOT TAKE CARE OF ME. AS A YOUNGSTER, I SEEMED TO JUST "FALL THROUGH THE CRACKS" OF THE SYSTEM. I WANDERED AROUND AIMLESSLY LOOKING FOR FOOD AND SHELTER ANYWHERE I COULD FIND IT. EVERY ONCE IN a while A KIND PERSON WOULD TRY TO HELP ME OUT, BUT IT WAS ALWAYS TEMPORARY SYMPATHY, AND THEN THEY WOULD BE ON THEIR WAY, LEAVING ME JUST ALONE AS EVER.

AS FATE WOULD HAVE IT, I WOUND UP PREGNANT. IT WAS A HARD PREGNANCY. I NEVER SEEMED TO GET ENOUGH TO EAT, AND HAVING NO PERMANENT HOME, I WAS ALWAYS EXPOSED TO THE WEATHER. I ACTUALLY SLEPT OUTSIDE THROUGHOUT MY ENTIRE PREGNANCY. NO MEDICAL CARE WAS AVAILABLE TO ME, MY FIRST PREGNANCY PRODUCED TWO BEAUTIFUL BABIES, BUT LIKE MY OWN MOTHER, I COULD NOT CARE FOR THEM. I DO NOT KNOW WHAT EVENTUALLY BECAME OF MY BABIES. AS A MATTER OF FACT, I HAVE GIVEN BIRTH ON THREE SEPARATE OCCASIONS AND I DO NOT KNOW WHERE ANY OF MY BABIES ARE NOW. SHORTLY AFTER MY THIRD PREGNANCY, MY HEALTH WAS SUFFERING BADLY. I DID NOT KNOW HOW TO GET MEDICAL ATTENTION AND NOBODY OFFERED TO HELP ME. I WAS VERY MALNOURISHED AND EXTREMELY WEAK.

ONE PARTICULARLY BAD DAY, I WAS STUMBLING AROUND THE STREETS, VERY TIRED, VERY HUNGRY, AND VERY WEAK. I GUESS I JUST WAS NOT PAYING ATTENTION, BUT I STEPPED OUT INTO THE STREET. AN ONCOMING CAR TRIED TO STOP BUT IT WAS TOO LATE. I WAS KNOCKED DOWN AND I FELT A TERRIBLE PAIN IN MY LEG. I WAS SURE IT WAS BROKEN. THE CAR KEPT GOING AND ONCE AGAIN I WAS IN TERRIBLE TROUBLE. I KNEW I HAD TO GET OUT OF THE STREET, SO I DRAGGED MYSELF TO THE CURB. ONCE AGAIN, I NEEDED MEDICAL TREATMENT, BUT IT SEEMED THAT ONCE AGAIN, NOT ONE PERSON WAS WILLING TO HELP ME.

TIME MARCHED ON AND I CONTINUED TO STRUGGLE ALONG. I WAS HANGING OUT ON THE STREETS ONE NIGHT AND I WAS PICKED UP BY A MAN. HE SEEMED NICE ENOUGH AT FIRST, HE TOOK ME HOME WITH HIM, OFFERED ME FOOD AND SHELTER SO I DECIDED TO HANG AROUND FOR AWHILE. I AM NOT REALLY SURE WHAT I DID WRONG, BUT AFTER AWHILE HE SAID HE WAS TIRED OF ME AND COULD NOT AFFORD TO HAVE ME AROUND AND THAT I WOULD HAVE TO GO. WE GOT INTO HIS CAR, DROVE OUT TO AN OLD DESERTED ROAD AND HE PUT ME OUT. HE JUST LEFT ME THERE. I WAS ALONE AGAIN.

AFTER SEVERAL LONG DAYS, I FOUND MY WAY TO THE NEAREST CITY. I THOUGHT SURELY I WOULD FIND SOMEBODY TO HELP ME OUT OF THIS "HELL ON EARTH" THAT I FOUND MYSELF LIVING IN. EVENTUALLY, THE POLICE, WHO HAD SEEN ME HANGING OUT ON THE STREETS FOR SEVERAL DAYS PICKED ME UP AND TOOK ME TO THIS HORRIBLE PRISON WHERE I NOW FIND MYSELF. I HAVE BEEN HERE ABOUT A WEEK AND NOBODY HAS TOLD ME WHAT WRONG I HAVE COMMITTED. I SLEEP, EAT, AND RELIEVE MYSELF IN MY LITTLE CELL. THE SMELL IS HORRIBLE AND IT IS SO VERY NOISY HERE. ALL THE OTHER PRISONERS CRY AND CALL OUT ENDLESSLY. IT SEEMS THAT I AM BEING PUNISHED FOR SIMPLY BEING BORN. HOW CAN THIS HAPPEN IN SUCH A "CIVILIZED" WORLD? SO, NOW THAT YOU HAVE READ MY STORY, WHAT DO YOU THINK? DO YOU THINK THAT I MUST BE VIOLENT, THAT MAYBE I AM A BANK ROBBER, OR DRUG DEALER, OR MAYBE EVEN A MURDERER? WHATEVER YOU THINK, DO NOT FEEL SORRY FOR ME.. MAYBE I WILL FIND THE PEACE IN DEATH THAT I HAVE NEVER FOUND IN LIFE.

BY THE WAY, I AM NOT A BANK ROBBER, DRUG DEALER, OR MURDERER.

I AM NOT EVEN HUMAN...

I AM A DOG.

I went out last night, just after midnight, to make sure all the heat lamps were working in the goat, chicken and turkey houses. The temperature was supposed to go to zero or below. All the dogs had long gone to bed and the night was silent. Stepping on the porch I was greeted with the sight of a crystal clear sky and multitudes of stars. Turning on the flashlight(we refuse to have one of those blasted dusk to dawn monstrosities that keep the stars from shining) I made my way to the barn. Earlier in the evening I had taken some straw to freshen the farm animal's bedding, and had dropped a flake outside the gate that I failed to retrieve.

Walking down the drive, I saw a set of bloody paw prints pressed into the snow, that came out of the woods and ended at the pile of straw by the gate. Curled on the pile of straw was a dog. Medium sized. Could have been any kind of dog. It was hard to tell in the darkness. The only thing for sure was that it was a dark color. I put my hand on the back and felt cold ribs. I took my gloves off and felt behind the front leg. A heart beat. Then I heard a faint thump. The end of the tail was going up and down making a slight impression in the snow, but the head didn't move. I saw the deep brown eyes that seemed to say, "please don't run me off. I can't take another step." The feet were cracked and bleeding. I checked to make sure the heat lamps were working and gently scooped up the frozen dog. No resistance, just the thump of the tail. Not much weight for the size of the bundle. I made my way to the front door.

Coming inside I laid the dog down inside the door. It never moved. Checking to make sure everyone was still asleep, I began the search for a blanket. I was pretty sure we had used the last dog blanket for our latest rescue. Nothing in the closet, nothing in the dryer, nothing on the couch. I went to the bedroom and gently retrieved the one off the bed. Even it was old and beginning to fray around the edges, but it was the last one available. I folded it and set it by the heat register closest to the furnace. Then I picked up the dog and laid it down on top.

After midnight, on New Year's Eve, in a very rural area of Southwest Missouri? No way I could get a Vet to see this one tonight. We would have to try tomorrow. I went to the kitchen and took a container of chicken broth out of the fridge and popped in the microwave. I went back to the living room and set the bowl down next to the blanket, within easy reach of the cold nose. Another thump of the tail, was the only movement. I reached down and put my hand under the chin, gently lifting the head. Now inside I could see that the dog was black, at least on the parts that had not turned grey. Almost the entire face showed the white signs of time past, and the pupils surrounded by those dark brown eyes were blue. The ears were that of a Lab and so was the tail which thumped every time I came near. The body was skin and bone. There were no front teeth. The canines were worn or broken down to nubs, and I was able to see three teeth in the back. I didn't want to pry to see if the old dog was a male or female. It really didn't matter anyway. I told the old dog I was going to go to bed and patted it's head which was met by another thump of the tail.

On my way to the bedroom, I wondered how in the world the dog had gotten to our farm. It came through the woods which were large and uninhabited. I also wondered why here. The answer was simple. The hand of God had brought the old dog to the right place. It's morning now and I've been up for a few hours. The bowl of broth was empty and the blanket was much as I had left it. No bloody paw prints on the carpet, only on the old blanket. Sometime after I went to bed, the old dog lapped up the chicken broth and licked the bowl clean. The blanket had been fluffed a little and the old dog had curled into a tight ball with the nose tucked inside the tail. When I bent down to say good morning, there was no thump of the tail. I knew then that the old dog had crossed the Rainbow Bridge in the night. Kneeling there in front of the old dog, I thanked God for the one old blanket I had left and for the hand that gently guided the old dog to Rainbow Farms. It was then that I thought of the poem that Walt had written for us:

"Listen to the kindness, spoken softly, Often lost behind the tears. Place your hand upon my shoulder, Let it take away my fears." Walt Zientek

May the New Year bring you closer to the hand of God, and all the old blankets you may need.

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