John Michalak

John Michalak

Folks who know me understand I can be a bit of a curmudgeon. There’s not much that physically makes me laugh or smile.

Except dogs.

I have a love for all animals, including cats, but there’s just something about dogs. Their energy shocks me back to life like a leap into the Sunburst swimming hole. Except perhaps when protecting their territory with barks high-pitched or low, they’re otherwise on an earnest crusade to embrace life to the full.

Dogs welcome their next meal with an almost manic gratitude. They play in the mud with the commitment of a professional athlete. They race across a field like they’ve spotted a long-lost friend. They rejoice in a scratch around the ears like it’s the very first time. And dogs nestle and cling to us with perhaps the greatest zeal of all.

And so, a smile crosses my face when I see all the dogs in Haywood County. They stroll with their humans along brick-paved Main Street, ecstatic about each bowl of water they encounter. They frolic in our parks. They sniff their way along our trails. I see so many dogs, I wonder whether all the world’s canines have come here, having discovered this hidden, mountainous playground so many of us adore.

My wife and I lost our last dog, Bella, to cancer when we lived here a few years ago. Like our other dogs, she was both a joy and a challenge, but mostly a joy. We all need to be needed, and boy, did Bella need us. Even at the very end, she looked at us with pleading eyes, asking for help with her fear and pain. I remember only a handful of “worst days” in my life. That was one of them.

Some of you may remember the movie, “All Dogs Go to Heaven.” When we lost our Bella, when we’ve lost other dear pets, we can’t help but hope that we’ll see them again. What is heaven but the embrace and bliss of eternal love? And while I want to be better at loving other human beings and want to receive their love, while I get that God’s love is the greatest of these, I’ve known of few better gifts of heavenly love than the dogs God has placed in my life.

We’re in the hunt for a house to rent or buy, and when we do, we plan to adopt a dog again. We have a few breeds in mind, but mostly, we want one who needs us as much as we need him. In the meantime, I’ll live vicariously, watching all the dogs in Haywood County with their contented hearts, strolling along our brick sidewalks and forest trails.

You’d almost think to look at them that they’ve already arrived at the pearly gates.

John Michalak is a Christian author and speaker. To learn more, visit

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