A Dog Redemption Story

You have no idea how far we have come.

No Idea.

If you had told me several years ago that our family would one day have a puppy, I would have looked at you and thought, “No stinkin’ way.”

Because 14 years ago, Jake and Caleb experienced a traumatic (for them) encounter with wild dogs at a game reserve in South Africa. The boys were safe and in no danger. John and I were holding the boys in fact when we had our wild dog encounter. Caleb was four years-old and Jake was about to turn six years-old.

Here’s what we all looked like then:

My parents traveled to South Africa to visit us in September 2007. Our family took them to a game reserve to view the amazing animals that live all around us in the southern hemisphere. On a game drive one September afternoon, my parents, John, Micah, Jake, Caleb, and I were taken inside a space where a pack of wild dogs were going to be fed.

Here is Micah in the game drive vehicle with John – you can see Jake’s arm in the lower left-hand corner of the photo.

We were safely sitting in a game drive vehicle when the game park crew scattered the dogs’ food all around us. In other words, our vehicle was inside the dogs’ food circle.

Some of the wild dogs we viewed from our game drive vehicle in 2007.

The game drive officiant warned us that when wild dogs secure their food, they erupt into high-pitched, piercing squeals and swarm their prey. The purpose is to send their prey into a state of confusion before the pack leader strikes.


Imagine it.

Our game vehicle sat squarely in the middle of a wild dog feeding frenzy. Yes, that’s what they call it. A wild dog feeding frenzy occurs as the they communicate which dogs are to eat first and when. We covered Jake and Caleb’s ears because the sounds took us all waaaaaaaaaaaay beyond sensory overload.

When our family returned home, John and I didn’t think much about the wild dog feeding frenzy. We didn’t comprehend how the feeding experience imprinted Jake and Caleb’s understanding of dogs as a threat. Thus, whenever we visited a family with dogs in South Africa or Zimbabwe, Caleb and Jake literally leaped into John’s and my arms seeking protection. Back then, Caleb and Jake didn’t have a firm grasp of language yet. It was difficult for them to communicate their thoughts and feelings. They didn’t have the speech tools to voice their fears. Many, many times, John and I didn’t know how best to help them when hard things happened.

So, for many months, John and I didn’t make the connection about the boys’ wild dog experience. However, time and time again, Jake and Caleb panicked whenever a dog was near.

John and I couldn’t make sense of it and the boys couldn’t tell us why they were so afraid.

What had happened to make the boys react this way when they hadn’t had this kind of fearful response to dogs before?

As John and I wracked our brains, it finally dawned upon us that Caleb and Jake’s wild dog experience had been the impetus for their fear of dogs – any kind of dog.

This began a year upon year upon year process of reframing their fearful view of dogs.

Gratefully, over time, our two precious sons interacted with dogs that helped Jake and Caleb overcome their desire to jump into their parents’ arms in a panic anytime they saw a dog.

Pippa and Ramsey helped Caleb and Jake overcome their fears.
Here is Jake with Miss Pippa.

And then something unimaginable happened in Caleb.

He began to take an even keener interest in dogs.

I remember back to one furlough in the States was that whenever he met someone, Caleb asked, “Do you have a dog or a cat?” It was actually a wonderful conversation starter as most people do have a cat or a dog. Caleb would then proceed to inquire about the animal’s name, behavior, and other points of interest. Being that communication had been a struggle for Caleb, this was such a wonderful moment in his life. A real breakthrough!

And then, not much later in time, Caleb began to ask us if he could have his own dog.

Oh, how he asked and asked and asked.

It was incredible. Our son who had been so afraid of dogs was now hoping to have his own furry, little, four-footed friend.

We couldn’t have a pet while we were in South Africa. Due to the amount of travel we did in Africa, and the amount of time we were out of the country and in the States on home assignment, we thought our long absences would be difficult for our pet to endure.

However, we promised Caleb that when we were in a more stable, living arrangement, where travel wasn’t part of our lives as much, we could see if that would be the time for us to have a dog.

Well, here we are.

We have a home in New Mexico.

We have a backyard.

In fact, one of the criteria Caleb had for our future home in the States was that it must have a puppy-friendly backyard.

We do.

So, last December, we put our name into the mix with Trail’s End Labradoodles in Sandy, Oregon to have a puppy sometime in the summer of 2021.

Our little puppy was born towards the end of June.

And eight weeks later, Caleb and I ventured to Oregon as part of ‘Operation Fetch’ to pick up our new family member.

We have had our Kholo for one week. Her name means faith and/or assurance of hope in the Xhosa language, one of South Africa’s eleven national languages. It was important to us to have an African name for our little dog for our love of Africa and for Caleb and Jake’s dog redemption story, too.

You may be wondering about Jake. How is he doing with Kholo? Well, Jake is still a little hesitant around dogs. However, if the dog is behaved, Jake does very well. And if the dog isn’t behaved? Well, no one does too well with animals that are not well behaved, do they?

Jake greets Kholo daily and pets her a couple of times a day. And that’s good enough for us.

And Caleb?

He is with his little dog for most of the day – loving her, praising her, playing with her, and beginning to train her. We are very proud of him and how far Caleb has come.

This is our Dog Redemption Story.

How grateful we are to our Lord for his care and guidance as we worked through the boys’ fears and helped them reach this amazing time in their lives!

We have a dog!

Who would have ever stinkin’ believed that!!!

Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.

New International Version, Hebrews 10:23

10 thoughts on “A Dog Redemption Story

  1. God’s timing and arranging of the details of this is perfect! What a victorious redemption story. I am sure that you felt like mean parents in your insistence that getting a dog while you were in SA just wasn’t doable. Imagine the trauma for humans and animal alike if you had gotten a dog then given your journey over the last few years. One more piece of the difficult journey in relocating. But God, in His wisdom and perfect timing, knew. BTW, I am not a dog person, but Kholo is adorable.

    1. Thanks, Deb. We are grateful we didn’t have a dog during this covid-affected life we’ve lived the past many months. It would have been very hard on us all if we had left a dog in South Africa while we were in the US so long. Separations are hard – for people and pets. I appreciate your affirmation. Lots of love, heather

  2. I am sooo very happy for Caleb & his new friend. Our pets are such a measure of peace & comfort. The labradoodle is an excellent family pet & very beautiful as well. Our entire family has dogs. We are dog people, for sure. God, in His perfect way has set the timing for every event in our lives. Sometimes we question but then we learn afterwards that HIS way is the best way. You have already exhibited that reality to your boys. Enjoy your new ‘baby.’ Blessings to you all.

    1. Hi Janet,

      Thank you so much! We are delighted to have Kholo join our family. She is teaching us a lot! Sending you our love, heather

  3. What a beautiful family you have, and now a beautiful new member. I love the pictures!

    1. Thank you, Nancy! Blessings to you! love, heather

  4. Oh how SWEET! Makes me want to hold her and love on her! She is just the perfect fit for the Witherow family!!

    1. Thank you, Shirley. Kholo is a real sweetie. We are very blessed by her – and you! Love you, heather

  5. Heather, what a great story! We were so excited to be a part of this journey with you. We prayed for your family and this little puppy to be what your family needed.
    We at Trails End Labradoodles are thankful for you choosing us to get Kholo. We look forward to hear about your continued adventure.
    God is good!!

    1. Thank you, Rich! Kholo is a wonderful addition to our family. She is an adventurer – traveling so well from Oregon to New Mexico. We are so proud of her and her ability to adjust to her new digs and family. Many blessings to you and thank you again. With appreciation, heather

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