In a previous post I said that pain changes you. Those of my readers who have known great pain will know what I mean.

For Christmas of 2017, we bought a golden retriever puppy for our daughter Sasha. It would be the first dog that was her very own. She named the little fellow Buck. Typical of the breed, he was friendly, full of energy, and affectionate. He was quite simply the sweetest dog I have ever seen.

When Buck was nine months old, we noticed that he had begun to exhibit a limp. More than that, the once sweet and happy dog was suddenly irritable and sullen. When it became clear to us that this was not a temporary condition, I took him to a veterinarian early one Friday morning. After a few x-rays, he diagnosed Buck with a severe and inoperable form of hip dysplasia. He told us that it would only get worse and that the dog was in perpetual pain. To keep him alive, he said, would be cruel.

Unsurprisingly, Sasha was grieved by this news. We told her that she could enjoy Buck over the weekend and that we wouldn’t take him in for his grim appointment with the vet until Monday morning. As any parent might, we hurt for Sasha and her dog. To soften the blow, on Saturday morning I drove to Fort Payne and bought a cute little Jack Russell terrier for her. That eased the pain a bit for what was coming on Monday. All day Saturday and Sunday, Sasha, Buck, and the Jack Russell that she promptly (and hilariously) named “Trump” rolled on the carpet together, bounded through the fields, and generally enjoyed each other. You can see by the sweet photo I have included that it made for a Norman Rockwellian scene.

Then, one night when Lauri and I were out for dinner, Lauri’s phone rang. It was Sasha and she was hysterical. Unprovoked, Buck had attacked Trump. We rushed home to find the little Jack Russell a limp and bloody heap of unmoving flesh. The next day, Buck was euthanized, and a few days after that, Trump died of his wounds. In the course of a weekend Sasha had lost not one, but two dogs. Could any plan have backfired worse than mine?

What had caused Buck, a dog that was the embodiment of goofy canine gentleness and affection, to turn so violent? This drama was so upsetting to us and Sasha especially. When I asked this question of the veterinarian, he didn’t hesitate: “I have seen it happen many times. Pain alters their personalities.”

Indeed, it had. Buck was different. It was like a scene out of “Old Yeller.”

Pain manifests itself in many ways. There is physical and emotional pain. There is pain that is self-inflicted and that which is inflicted by others. Some pain is suffered in silence and others endure the spectacle of public abuse. Whatever the manifestation, whatever the circumstances, pain changes you.

In the coming weeks we will unpack this subject a bit more and, we hope, encourage those of you who are fellow sufferers. Yes, whether your pain is due to visible physical affliction or emotional wounds that no one can see; chronic illness or a broken heart, we hope to give some measure of insight, small though it might be, that points the way forward.

Larry Alex Taunton is an author, cultural commentator, and freelance columnist contributing to USA TODAYFox NewsFirst ThingsThe AtlanticCNN, and The American Spectator.  In addition to being a frequent radio and television guest, he is also the author of The Grace Effect and The Gospel Coalition Arts and Culture Book of the Year, The Faith of Christopher Hitchens. You can subscribe to his blog at larryalextaunton.com.
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