Dogs are long-considered “man’s best friend,” but for a staunch Christian and member of Concord United Methodist Church, the bond became much more.
Business and financial troubles in 2011 led Tom Baker into an abyss of worry, and for more than a year he could not find a way out of the darkness.
A “perfect storm” of circumstances impacted his once-thriving television production business, diminishing his work by a third, leaving him owing creditors, his employees and ultimately, the IRS.
“I owed at least $200,000,” said the television producer/writer/editor. “I kept my employees on, thinking the business would come back.
“I couldn’t pay them — they had trusted me — and it ate me alive.”
Baker really bottomed out when the IRS became aware of his failure to keep up with his business taxes.
Realizing at that point the IRS “could take everything … that is when I fell apart.”
Baker sunk into “chronic worry.”
“I lost 30 pounds, and just went into a pit. But, worse than that, I disengaged from my family [which includes his wife, Michelle, and four children].
“Michelle tried desperately to help me, and kept telling me to ‘give it to God.’ I would do that, but seven seconds later, I would take it right back.”
A Sunday school teacher at CUMC, where he plays drums in the worship band, Baker knew turning to his faith was the right solution.
“But I felt I didn’t deserve to be happy,” he said. “I have always been a believer, but I didn’t believe what God said, that He truly is out for my best interest.”
About a year into this spiral, Baker began noticing the demeanor of one of the family’s dogs.
Mango, a mixed breed, had been part of the Baker household prior to what he now refers to as “a crisis of trust.”
“As I started watching her, [I noticed] she was happy, all the time,” he said.
“I believe God put dogs here to give us a glimpse of Him,” Baker added. “But also, to teach us how to live.
“They show loyalty, patience, forgiveness, how to relax, how to submit, and they also show unconditional love.
“By watching Mango, I started understanding how to live again.”
In Mango, Baker said he saw some clear-cut character traits that helped him see his circumstances from a different perspective.
“Dogs live for now,” he said. “They don’t live in yesterday, and don’t consider tomorrow. I did everything but that.”
Car rides were eye-openers too.
“When I let her go in the car, it was her best day ever,” he said. “She would put her nose against the window to take it all in, and wanted us to roll the window down so she could take it all in, and experience all of it.”
Baker said he also was touched by Mango’s “servant’s heart.”
“They are one of the few creatures who love others more than themselves.”
He said it was a gradual shift, over about a six-month time frame, that led him to “an overwhelming peace and contentment in my situation.”
Baker said his transformation occurred as his business still struggled.
“That experience and struggle became one of the best things that has ever happened to me. It would be too easy to have found peace after it recovered. I got to see God work — just not in the ways I expected.”
He began to record his revelations over time, and had the idea to write from Mango’s perspective.
That led to Baker’s book, “One Dog’s Faith: How my dog helped me trust in God and overcome chronic worrying.”
“I started to see the joy and love of this silly dog that had been trying to help me. Though I believe God’s spirit and nudging, I began to talk about and write about it through Mango’s perspective,” he said.
Baker said it took about four years to finish the book, and he vacillated between whether to publish it or not. But, thinking it might somehow be able to help others, he forged ahead.
“My goal is to impact those who are struggling with a hopeless outlook — [those who are] worrying about things not looking great, and who are losing sleep over a problem that might very well be the greatest thing that could happen.”
Baker saw the book published last fall. It has been sold locally at Farragut Pharmacy and Cedar Springs Christian Store; it also is available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble.com and Cokesbury.com.
The book has received endorsements from local pastors, radio and TV host Hallerin Hill, country music singer Louise Mandrell and gubernatorial candidate Randy Boyd, former state Commissioner of Economic and Community Development.
It also was recently featured on a Today Show segment — and Baker is being interviewed by The Hallmark Channel after the first of the year.
In addition to his work as owner of Cobblestone Entertainment, Baker has a weekly radio talk show.
“I am just so passionate about spreading the joy I have found,” he said. “It is all about hope.”