April 29, 2020

I’ll be a little longer in this post than usual to answering the question posed by the title of this post. The reason is because there are a few important things that will make this post more interesting to you and that will set up the main points I want to make about the title.

First, I want to tell you the inspiration behind why I am writing this post today instead of the one I had originally planned to post. Sandra and I were up earlier that usual yesterday to get to WalMart for their opening up between 6:00 a.m. and 7:00 a.m. for senior citizens.

On our way to WalMart (which was the first moment we had had for conversation), Sandra told me, “I had a horrible nightmare last night and I am still very upset about it.”  I said, “Well, tell me about it.”  And she did. The nightmare follows:

Sandra told me she was driving somewhere and when she stopped at a stop light, the window was open and Ginger, our weenie dog,  jumped out the window on the passenger side and took off running real fast.  She said she just left the car parked right there on the street and jumped out and started trying to chase Ginger down.  Soon she caught up with Ginger where she had run behind a large building.  When she saw Ginger, she had been attacked by two very large dogs.  Sandra then ran up to the big dogs and began kicking them and screaming at them to stop.  Eventually the big dogs ran off.  But Ginger was all chewed up and just lying on the ground, and couldn’t walk at all. Sandra then picked Ginger up and ran as fast at she could back to the car and took Ginger to our vet.

At that point in Sandra’s nightmare, she woke up sweating all over.  She told me that she was so happy to wake up and realize she had just had a terrible nightmare and that it wasn’t a real event.

She went on to say to me that many people would think she was crazy being so upset by a nightmare.  I told her, “No, they wouldn’t.  Especially if they knew how much our pets mean to us – how they are just like our family to us.”

Then she said that nightmare reminded her of a column John Moore wrote about a month ago.  John writes a weekly column that is published in our Longview News-Journal and nine other papers in East Texas.

In John’s column that Sandra referred to, he was writing about pets and how we as humans can love them so deeply.  He went on to conclude that our pets are a very big part of our lives.  But that to our pets, we are everything to their lives.  We are their whole world.  It was a great article.

So that gets me to where I can explain the title to this post.  In 1995, I preached a sermon to my three churches where I was pastoring, titled “How Much Money is a Stray Dog Worth?”

When I got to each of the churches, people who saw that title of my sermon in the bulletin, many asked me, “Preacher, what in the world are you going to preach on?”  I told them, “Just wait and you’ll see. And look at the scripture references in the bulletin.”

Well, I preached that sermon and got many more positive compliments that usual.  I even got a written letter to me from a widow woman telling me how much she enjoyed the sermon.  She said, “You probably noticed me crying during the sermon and all the tears streaming down my cheeks.”  She explained how lonley she had been since her husband had passed away several years earlier.  Then she ended her letter by thanking me again and said her two dogs were now her family and they meant all the world to her.

I guess I could say what we preachers say that I scored an ace on that sermon.  But I am sure you’re probably thinking, “What was the inspiration behind the sermon?”

Let me say as Paul Harvey used to say, “Now let me tell you the rest of the story.”

The story is rather long, but I’ll condense it as much as I can. The true story behind my sermon way back in 1995, and this post today, actually took place back in 1975. The way I learned about this story was through the publisher of the paper where I lived.  He and I had become very good friends and he had had me to write a weekly article for his paper.  Well, every week I would hand deliver the article to his newspaper and he and I would always talk and sometimes have a cup of coffee together.

On one of my deliveries to him, the publisher told me something.  He said “You probably know that newspaper publishers spy on each other’s papers. We like to know what other papers our size put in their papers.  And he said that now with computers it’s easier than ever to do that.

And that’s when he dropped the sermon idea on me.  He said he had been checking out another newspaper’s feature articles and went back in their archives and found this story he said he knew I would be interested in.  And when he told me the story, I told him, “Yes, brother.  That will preach.”

Like I said, the story was twenty years old already when I began investigating the entire history of the story.  I had to get my publisher friend to  retrieve many other papers that had stories about this event in them.

After I got all the stories together, I composed the sermon and preached it.  I mentioned my publisher friend by name as providing all the material I had read to know about this situation.  He heard about his name mention in my sermon from several of his friends.  He told me later how proud he was that I had given him some credit for his helping me get all the information together for the sermon.

To my great surprise, the perpetrator in this story was a man whom I had personally met  just one time back in 1965.  He was 18 years old at the time, just getting ready to graduate high school.  He came from a very wealthy family. His grandfather had started a business that his father was now running.

This man was bragging to me and a friend of mine about how lucky he was that he was in a family where he could have anything he wanted. He told us of how his Dad had let him pick out any car he wanted for his 16th birthday.  And now he was getting to pick out another brand new car for his graduation.  He told us that his dad even gave him a credit card to use anyway he wanted.  He even pulled the credit card out of his wallet to show it to us and point out that it was in his name.

After my friend and I parted company with this guy, I told my friend that that guy would never amount to anything.  I said he’s just a bad egg; he’s arrogant, conceited, just a braggart, doesn’t  care about anyone but himself.  I said he’d just like my Granddaddy Jay often said about people like him not being worth somebody knocking them in the head.  My friend and I both agreed on that and said we’ll just wait and see what happens to him in the future.

I guess my friend and I were prophets about this guy being no good.

Now to get what you’ve been waiting for.  The newspaper articles that I read were all written by a man that found out about this incident and began writing about it just as a public service to people he thought might not hear about it if a layman didn’t write about it.  He was not a writer at all.

The story he wrote many installments about was over a little girl who was ten years old at the time.  When the writer first heard the story through the grapevine, he drove over 100 miles from his home to go interview the family about the incident.

Hr found out the sad history of this little girl.  She was born, for lack of a better description, “retarded.”. Her parents tried to send her to school, but she was what many of my teacher friends call uneducatable.  She was made fun of by other kids at school because she could not learn anything. She never even learned to read or write.  So her parents decided to take her out of school.

The little girl’s parents were told by doctors it would not be a good idea for them to have other children because future children would face a high risk of being born with the same problems as the child they already had.

The parents took the doctors’ advice and never had any other children.  So this little girl was an only child.  She spent most of her time out on the front porch coloring or drawing.

But when the little girl was about eight years old, a strange event happened to her.  I called it serendipity in my sermon.

While the little girl was coloring one day, a little dog wandered up into her front yard, and she immediately went and picked the puppy up and started hugging the puppy and playing with her.  They immediately bonded.

After a little while, the little girl’s mother came out on the porch to take take her daughter a sandwich and her favorite Kool Aid.  When the mother saw the puppy she quickly realized that someone had thrown the puppy away.  The little puppy was nearly starved to death. So they started feeding the puppy and soon nursed her back to good health. The puppy slept with the little girl and they became best friends. The little girl’s life was wrapped up in this little dog.

But a few years later tragedy struck.  The little girl was sitting on her front porch as usual, coloring, while her dog was out close to the edge of the dirt road they lived on.  While the dog was by the road sniffing at some spot, a car came along driving real fast and purposely veered off the road to run over the little dog.  It killed the dog instantly. The little girl was screaming so loud that her mother came out of the house to see what was wrong.  By this time the little girl had gone into shock and had fallen down on the ground having convulsions.

The little girl’s mother didn’t know what to do and she started yelling for help.  The man who ran the commissary by the sawmill, where the little girl’s Dad worked, came out to see what was wrong.  He correctly said she was in shock and needed to be taken to the hospital.  So the man locked up his store and took the little girl and her mother to the hospital.

Fortunally, the little girl got better with medical help and was able to go home the next day.  While the little girl was at the hospital, a medical rep heard the story of why the little girl was in shock and why.  He was appaled over the story.  He lived nearby the man who wrote the series of stories about the little girl, and told the writer all he knew about the incident.

The writer visited this family and began the investigation. He paid for a private investigator to investigate and see whether they could find the driver who killed the little dog. 

Fortunately, there were several eye witnesses who lived in this row of shotgun houses the little girls family lived in, and they all identified the car. One of the neighbors even got part of the license tag number on the car.  That was good enough evidence for the private investigator to locate the owner of the car.  To further nail down who the actual driver was, there was a police report of the same man and car who had run over a man’s mailbox not too far from where the little girl lived.  The man called the police immediately about the incident, and the police intercepted the car not far from the man’s house who called in on them for running over his mailbox.  The tow guys ware stopped getting beer out of their cooler in the trunk of the car. They were arrested for DWI and drinking on a public road, and taken to jail.

The next day the rich guy paid their bond and they got out of jail to appear in court later.

When the writer of the story found out about this arrest, he hired his private eye to further investigate this driver.  He found out the driver was from a rich family, but that he himself didn’t work anywhere – just ran the roads with a long string of arrests.

The writer convinced the little girls mom and dad to let him hire a lawyer at his expense to sue the driver over this incident.  A high-powered lawyer was hired, and he immediately filed a lawsuit.  As soon as the lawsuit was filed and hit the legal section of the paper, the driver’s dad had his lawyer to contact the lawyer representing this little girl’s case. The lawyer offered a large sum of money to drop the suit and keep it out of court.  Eventually the little girl’s dad refused to take the offer.  He said more than money was involved.  This was about principle. 

The lawyer for the driver’s dad kept increasing their offer to drop the case.  The little girl’s parents kept refusing the offers.  He told the  lawyer for the driver that their family did not have enough money or power to keep this case out of court.

Eventually the little girl had her day in court.  The lawyer for the  defense made an opening statement to the jury asking, “How much could a little stray dog really be worth?”

The little girl’s lawyer kept pounding into the jury’s collective mind that to this little girl, this was not just a dog; the little dog was her family – the brothers and sisters she could never have, her best friend who slept by her side for two wonderful years.

The man who wrote all these stories about the little girl’s sad plight was in the courtroom that day.  He observed that most of the jurors were wiping tears from their eyes.

When the jurors went to the jury room to deliberate over this case, they weren’t gone ten minutes before they made their decision.  They told the judge it was a unanimous decision without anyone on the jury even entertaining the idea that the driver of the car was anything but guilty.

It didn’t take the judge but a minute  to render his decision. He awarded the little girl $1,000,000.  The money placed in a trust fund for her parents to use for the little girl. 

The story got picked up by a wire service and it was published in many papers across the country.  One of the headlines I read about the verdict read, “How much is a stray dog worth.”

So that’s how I came to preach a sermon with that title.  I concluded my sermon by saying that all of God’s creation is valuable, even things like mosquitoes, house flies, gnats etc.  The Bible even says God even knows the fall of a sparrow.

So, yes indeed, that little girl was vindicated somewhat.  But how can anyone really put a monetary price on a member of your family?

This post was longer than usual, but I hope you enjoyed it.  If you did, please share.

God Bless You,
Spencer Plumley