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  • Writer's pictureDianne Hammontree


As a substitute teacher, many surprises happen even if it is the first day on the job. One day, I was subbing at a school for at-risk teens.

One particular student, Nikki who was scrawny and fearful came to the door of my classroom. I believed that if she felt cornered she could become aggressive. Could she have been on the streets as a fifteen year old, starved for food and love and forced to take care of herself?

Since Jesse, my red Golden Retriever was a therapy dog, I was allowed to take her with me to teach. Jesse and I welcomed Nikki and showered her with kindness.

The first thing Nikki did, was swing her right leg backwards so she could kick Jesse in the chest. I blocked her kick and told her if she ever tried to hurt my dog she would live to regret it! She growled profanities at us, stormed into the classroom and plopped down on an old couch with a grunt. Her arms were crossed over her chest in defiance and her glare revealed a hardened heart.

“God, please give me the strength to get through this day,” I prayed. My prayer had no sooner left my lips, when I looked out the corner of my eye and saw Jesse casually walking over to Nikki. Gently, Jesse sat down, and lovingly looked at Nikki. Nikki scooted over to the left a little. Jesse did too. Nikki moved further to the left. Then Jesse, who had never been on a piece of furniture, climbed onto the couch. Nikki moved left again so that she practically melted into the armrest of the couch. Jesse put her head in Nikki’s lap.

For what seemed like hours, dog and child were embodied in a time capsule. Neither of them moved. Then I saw a flicker of light in Nikki’s eyes. Silently, one hand unwound itself and she laid a finger on Jesse’s head. Trying to look as if she didn’t care and failing miserably. Nikki relaxed and let the palm of her hand rest on Jesse’s back. Dog and child connected: mind and heart.

God works in mysterious ways. We don’t need to understand them any more than Nikki did. Probably, for the first time in her life, she experienced unconditional love through Jesse.

I still pray for Nikki even though it has been almost thirty years since our classroom experience. She was literally a homeless fifteen-year-old child at that time. She had been evicted from her mother’s house, aunt’s house, grandma’s home, and a foster home. I hope she is okay and that she remembered Jesse who gave her unconditional love, just as God does.


Dianne Hammontree, Secretary of Homeward Bound Dog Shelter


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