God gives many gifts, and one of the great gifts he has given me was the gift of our family dogs.

Scripture says little about dogs and when it does it is never flattering. Most of the references make one think of wild dogs who ran in packs. Psalm 22:16 says, “Many dogs have surrounded me, a pack of evildoers closes in upon me. Or again from Philippians 3:2, Watch out for those dogs, those evildoers. No, strangely, I cannot find one Scripture that speaks well of dogs.

And yet, they have been a great gift to me. Such loyalty, such unconditional “love.” There were times in my life when everyone was disgusted with me, even I was disgusted with me. But even on days like that my dog would still run to great me, and curl up next to me; such wonderful, “forgiving” and uncomplicated creatures.

And they have much to teach us. Likely you have seen this list, but it is always worth another read. It’s things: can learn from dogs:

  1. Never pass up the opportunity to go for a joy ride.
  2. Allow the experience of fresh air and the wind in your face to be pure ecstasy.
  3. When loved ones come home, always run to greet them.
  4. Let others know when they’ve invaded your territory.
  5. Take naps and stretch before rising.
  6. Run, romp, and play daily.
  7. Eat with gusto and enthusiasm.
  8. Be loyal.
  9. If what you want lies buried, dig until you find it.
  10. When someone is having a bad day, be silent,  sit close by and nuzzle them gently.
  11. Thrive on attention and let people touch you.
  12. Avoid biting when a simple growl will do.
  13. When you’re happy, dance around and wag your entire body.
  14. No matter how often you’re scolded, don’t buy into the guilt thing and pout…. run right back and make friends
  15. Delight in the simple joys of a long walk.

All simple but profound lessons, proclaimed without words, and lived with a simple integrity. Yes, dogs are very special.

Prince, our eighty pound Dalmatian was the dog of my youth. (See Picture, upper right). He had the energy and strength of a horse and commanded quite a presence in our back yard as he laid down the law with squirrels and other possible intruders. He loved to go for car rides, and when we took him for a walk, it was really he who walked us, so powerful was his gait. He also ran five miles a day with my father.

A remarkable thing about Prince was that he could smile. When we would return home, he’d run to the door, furiously waging his tail and with the cheeks of his muzzle pulled back and his head shaking back and forth. People who saw it for the first time couldn’t believe it, he was actually smiling. It seems to be a unique gift of some Dalmatians and Collies.

Prince was also quite a dreamer. He’d lay on the floor near the sofa and doze off to sleep. Soon enough his legs started moving, and he’d start huffing and even barking as he dreamed. No doubt he was in a great chase.

In his last two years he began a decline and gave me my first close lesson of age and death. Gradually, the majestic dog grew crippled and struggled to walk. I learned to give him aspirin, and  that helped him for a while. But there came the days when his walking grew rare and then his kidneys failed. We knew we had to let him go.

My Father was a gifted poet (if I do say so myself), and some of his finest works were composed at the death of our dogs. It was his way of grieving their loss. Here is what he wrote of Prince as he recalled their long runs together and the sad moment when Prince had to be put down:

We were solitary, old friend, you and I.
In the sun and rain we tramped together
And walked and ran the miles;
A hundred phantoms caught you
In scent and sound;
You raced to ancient summonses
That led the pack across the wild
In joyful bound:
You tried to tell me.
I listened, but could only hear
Your barking in the wind,
And see the eager paws
Trace out your gladness in the ground.

When I returned from being gone,
You greeted me with the abandon of your kind,
In leaps and yelps and wags,
Telling me you loved me
And not knowing why,
Yet knowing that I loved you, too,

And had missed you,
Even as I do now
That death’s deep slumberings
Have had their toll,
Since I held you in my arms,
And you looked at me
And said goodbye
. (Charles Evans Pope, 1982)

Next came Missy, a stray who adopted us. She had been abused, and so had a timidity that was endearing even as it was troubling. She loved to look out the window of our house, and would loudly announce to any passing dogs that she worked here and that they should get on along. She too, loved car rides and to romp for hours in the yard or in the nearby field. She was a tender little dog who felt trauma when we left the house, and joy when we returned. She loved to snuggle close and really stole my parents hearts. Of her my father wrote at her death:

I thought that I saw you,
But you were gone, dear;
The yard was empty then,
The brown of your fur lost
on the green of May.
In memory’s shade
You snuggle next to me,
My little love, again. (Charles Evans Pope, 1998)

Finally there was Molly, a border collie and a dog who perfectly illustrated that happiness is an inside job. She seemed content with what ever happened. She even seemed happy when she went to the kennel to stay as my parents travelled. She was happy to go, and happy to come home. My father said that her motto was “Whatever happens, is just great for Molly.” She was just always happy, full of energy and never gave a day of trouble; the perfect dog for my parents in their old age. She outlived them both and died about a year after my father passed.

Even in death she was charmed. She had been diagnosed with liver cancer. But she never showed any pain. The day she died, she had romped about in the yard and came in to sleep in her own little bed. She died while she napped. Of her my Father wrote:

Molly Jingles,
Scamper pup,
You are down,
You are up;

Racing round
In jumps and traces
Hiding bones
In secret places,

You have really
Struck a nerve,
Chewing up
The house with verve,

You are clever
You’re a bounder,
But our very
Favorite hounder. (Charles Evans Pope, 2000)

Thank you Lord, for the gift of our pets, those special animals designated by you to be our close companions. Thank you for the gifts of Prince, and Missy and Molly. In recent years you’ve given me my cats too: Tupac, Gracie-Girl, Ellen Bayne, Jerry McGuire, Benedict, and now Jenny- June and Daniel. I don’t know if animals can love, Lord, but I sure do feel your love through them and I thank you and praise you for the quiet, simple lessons you have taught me through them. May you be praised O Lord.

The pictures in this post are my own.

Here’s a wonderful video of a very smart and helpful Jack Russell Terrier:

63 Responses

  1. JJ says:

    I’M gonna tell Daniel on you. You did not post his piture. Shame on you. lol. The beauty of this post for me is that God created it ALL FOR HIS GLORY and for me. Thank you God for all your creatures. You love us so much.

  2. abby schult says:

    thanks a lot father. dogs are a great gift from Our Father.

  3. Vijaya says:

    Pets = joy. I lovedlovedloved this post (everything — the lessons, the pictures, your father’s poems and especially the video). We weren’t allowed to have pets when I was growing up, but somehow we managed to have a parrot and even a pup for a while. Mostly I took crickets for a walk (hop). Now we have a pet-filled household and we enjoy them thoroughly. God is soooo good.

  4. Nick says:

    Yay for doggies!

  5. Jeff Galloway says:

    How often we look for complicated things or daft experiences to deal with our lonliness or boredom – when all along our Lord has dogs and other pets to show us love and allow us to love. There are some who go overboard, of course – treating their pets as ‘children’ and spending money on ridiculous toys and gadgets for them – but it is impossible to feel down when your dog wags its tail furiously and leaps about when he sees you walk through the door.

  6. Dismas says:

    I’m struck by your Dad’s ability to express such praise and thanksgiving in times of sorrow. The image of Prince is amazing as well as the context of this article and it’s interpretation of your father’s love. The apple, it seems, never falls far from the tree.

    Having no such gift for poetry myself, I’m reduced to borrowing a line from a much less gifted poet than you and your Dad which this article brings to mind:

    “With a knick-knack, paddy whack, Give the dog a bone, This old man came rolling home.”

  7. Retired from Tucson says:

    Now I know why I always read you and always like what you write.

    As my daughter says, it is hard to understand people who do not like dogs.

    My little good dog is ill and I keep telling God that if He cares for sparrows, He must also care for dogs. And with prayers to St. Francis of Assisi and the Maker of dogs, she is doing a little better.

    Keep writing for us.

  8. John Shabunas says:

    Thank you Monsignor for this wonderful post. As I grow older I realize how much dogs are a gift from God and how they became our best friends. Then there are cats …

    Here is a snippet from the New Skete Monastery newsletter published a couple of years ago:

    Pathways to the Soul

    How easy to get lost in a dog’s eyes!

    They are the pathways to its soul, orbs that help us realize the depth of good will and devotion that ours at a moment’s notice. They reveal sentiments that are focused and sincere, beyond doubt and questioning. A dog’s eyes do not lie. When we catch the gaze of our best friend, there is no shame, no embarrassment, only the sheer transparency of a creature who can’t possibly deceive and whose love can never be merited.

  9. Mary says:

    Oh Msgr., thank-you so much for sharing that! When I finally get around to writing a book about all of my animal friends that God has sent my way, I’ll be sure to send you a copy. They do indeed love us and that love is ultimately a gift from God. Every day of my life, I give thanks to God and I praise Him, because one of His lesser creatures has caused me to do so. And I tell them ‘Do you realize what an important job you have? You always bring God to mind for me!’ I think that is a pet’s purpose in life. One animal who will make an appearance in this book yet to be written is a pigeon named Avis. Just a hint as to how special a gift animals can be: Avis was severely injured and I rescued him. Months later, he was released and went off to be with his own kind, but he would come to visit me every few days at first, and then every few weeks. I had no way of knowing when he would come, but I was always busy doing chores when he did. He had a favorite perch he would come to at my kitchen window. And no matter where I was in the house – down in the basement doing laundry or back in the bedrooms running the sweeper – I would feel THE most wonderful thrill in my heart and I knew Avis had come to see me. I had that certain knowledge the very first time it happened, and every time thereafter. We would have a wonderful visit that always ended in the most unusual way (you’ll have to read about it in the book). And your father wrote some fine poetry. You must have wonderful memories of him. Thanks again for sharing your animal stories.

  10. A.B. says:

    Great post, Msgr. A wonderful lesson about how pets teach us.

  11. Marius says:

    This is a beautiful post and a truly beautiful poetry, too. I am puzzled by the fact that dogs are so despised, not only in the Scripture but also in practically every traditional culture. On the other hand, they do appear in Christian iconography (St. Roch, St. Martin de Porres, St. Dominic Guzman). The Church should try harder to alleviate the lot of animals – in this respect, the work of the Catholic Care for Animals, http://www.all-creatures.org/ca/, is to be applauded. Becoming a vegetarian is also a step in the right direction.

  12. Theresa Henderson says:

    OH! Who is the Hound of Heaven then? GREAT post!

    We had good dogs too. Saint Bernards and collies and Irish setters and Labradors. We had a collie that wouldn’t let Mom spank us kids. Tobi would take Mom’s hand and not let go, not biting ahrd enough to break sin, but enough that she knew he was telling her “Don’t hit my kid”. If she put the dog out, we knew somebody was “gonna get it”.

    The Labs we had at the farm and they trained themselves to keep the cows inside the pastures. One of them was named Tag-Along, because wherever my Dad was he tagged along. We mostly called him Tag. He saved my Dad’s life when Dad got caught inside a silo. Tag ran to the house and barked nonstop until we realized Dad wasn’t with him, so something must be wrong. Tag loved all the farm babies too, and once woke me in the night to go out and he barked down by the road until I went down there. Somebody had thrown a paper bag full of kittens out, and one was injured. He became their surrogate daddy, letting them crawl all over him on the porch. If one fell off the porch, he’d jump down and pick it up by taking its whole head into his huge mouth. He did that even when they were older and running all over the yard, and it used to scare our guests! “That BIG dog is eating a cat!!!”

    He wasn’t, he was just telling them it was nap time, he seemed to think if he and Dad napped on the porch the cats had to nap too.

    When Dad would leave the farm, Tag would sit near the end of the driveway under the lilac bush until Dad would come back. That’s where we buried him, and I don’t know how many times people asked who “Who is the dog by the driveway?” We used to go look but there was never a dog there. We always felt like Tag was still around protecting us and our property.

    • Amazing stories about Tag!

      • Concerned says:

        I was reading along fine, until your last sentence. Aww sentences like this make people wanna believe that there is truely an unnatural affection towards animals and it confuses me. God’s creation certainly teaches us many many important life lessons and bring us closer to him, and we are to cherish them, but we are also not to go beyond what the Bible says. They have no spirit or soul. Only humans have after life so how can your pet still be protecting your property. I believe we should keep things in their right perspective please. Having said, have a great day.

  13. Tim H says:

    The only thing Dogs ever taught me about anything was how owners are so willing to say “Oh, he doesn’t bite” which whenever I’m around seems to be immediately followed by “Spot! Stop it!!!” and then “Wow, I’ve never seen him act that way before!”

    -Tim-

  14. Alan Clayton says:

    From Alan in Scotland. You did not answer the $50 million question Father, as you Americans say.Will we meet our beloved pets again in the afterlife?

  15. Niles Comer says:

    A few days before my mom died in June 2008, she said to me, “get a dog, it will chill you out a bit and teach you compassion.” She also alluded to the possibility that she might “come back as a dog” although she did not believe in reincarnation. 2 months after my mom’s death the Lord led me to a rescue dog whom I renamed Juno, the Mother and Queen of the Gods and meaning a regal, strong woman, which she was. It came to pass that the local vet actually had her original certificate and it showed that she had the exact same birthday as my mom! Every minute with her has been a complete and total gift of God, bringing me snuggles and love on hard days, and companionship in long walks in the mountains. Thanks for sharing and for the poetry!

    • I know that after my mom died, our Dog Mollie served as a kind of connection for my Dad. For Mollie had been Mom’s dog too.

      • Hmm says:

        ‘my mom alluded to the possibility that she would come back as a dog’. I would have been terribly worried by that statement. Your mom was made a little lower than the angels in heaven, in the image and likeness of God when she was in this life, how would she go from this to ‘the possibility …’.

  16. Carolyn Toal says:

    I have to disagree…. not only Collies and Dals smile. Our Bassets and Cairns smile often. Sometimes they even laugh. The laugh is a sort of forced breath and our Cairns do it when they are having fun running in the yard or playing catch. God truly knew that we needed such faithful, beautiful friends. They listen when we need to cry and laugh when we are joyful. Thanks be to God!

  17. Indignant Catholic says:

    It’s unbelievable how the couples nowadays prefer to dedicate their time, fondness and love to pets and not to their own kids which they prefer not to breed them. I have a lot of friends who are married and they do not intend to have kids but they do not give up of having several pets (one has three dogs two cats and more than ten little parrots). When pets worth more than children we have a big problem. It is important to remember that Jesus Christ gave his life for salvation of the human beings and not for animals.

    “it is not good to take the bread of the children, and cast it to the dogs” (Mark 7, 27)

  18. Liam says:

    The book of Tobias (in some translations) makes wonderful lively references to the dog.

  19. Liam says:

    Tobias 11:5

    • Hmm…couldn’t find a reference to a dog Tobit 11…

      • Liam says:

        I have the Bible translation of Msgr. Ronald Knox but in any event check the Catholic Encyclopedia (it’s online too) and you will see the reference to the dog mentioned in Tobias 11:5

        No cave canem’s necessary.

      • Romulus says:

        Tobit 11:9 in the Douay-Reims: Then the dog, which had been with them in the way, ran before, and coming as if he had brought the news, shewed his joy by his fawning and wagging his tail.

  20. Terry says:

    Dear Msgr.,

    Thank you so much for the great post.

    Here is a video clip of a song that I think you’ll enjoy.
    It’s called God and Dog.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H17edn_RZoY

  21. Diana says:

    Thank you so much for this. Your dad was a great poet.

  22. Barb says:

    We’ve had four dogs and all of them smiled when they were happy. We just lost our sixteen year old part chocolate lab and sharpei mix to a massive stroke. How we miss her! We still have a five year old part boxer mix. Both of these dogs are rescues. I can’t imagine life without a dog. They truly are a blessing from God.

  23. Linus says:

    Amen to all that. Your Dad was quite a guy.

  24. Liam says:

    Dear Monsignor…continuing with our ‘Oh where oh where has Our Little Dog Gone’ discussion of Tobit (Tobias) and his charming dog:

    Some translations read:

    “Then the dog, which had been with them in the way, ran ahead, and, arriving like a messenger, he showed his joy by fawning and wagging his tail. Rising up, his blind father began to run, stumbling with his feet.”

    You might want to read this from The Catholic Forum http://www.catholic-forum.com/saints/cpdv17.pdf

    As I mentioned in an earlier post, the translation of the Vulgate by Msgr. Ronald Knox also gives reference to this pooch!

    Sorry to be pushing the good dog reference in scripture, but you and I both know what it’s like to have affection for a dog. God Bless!

  25. John Clem says:

    Thanks Monsignor!

    I am sure that dogs go to heaven.
    Following is a link to a book about a boy who went to heaven and came back, and reported that there were dogs in heaven: http://www.amazon.com/Heaven-Real-Little-Astounding-Story/dp/0849946158/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1302437238&sr=1-1

    God Bless,
    John

  26. Alfred says:

    Thank you, Monsignor, for positive views on dogs and NOT the standard “animals have no souls and no rights. In the past 34 years I have had three wonderful dogs that I have adopted from shelters. Thank you for a very touching piece.

  27. Mick says:

    There is much to be said about dogs and I believe it has been covered well here. However, I believe if we look more deeply into the interactions dogs experience with their humans we’ll find some divine parallels.

    I live in the rural South and it’s an unusual home that doesn’t possess at least one dog. Many are employed strictly for their use in protection, farming, breeding, or hunting. They are treated well, but are generally viewed as “help.” Subsequently, when either age or infirmity finds them unable to serve further, they are unceremoniously dispatched and replaced.

    Household dogs (pets), on the other hand, generally are possessed by one of two personality types: those who genuinely love dogs, and those who love to “have dogs” (generally purebreds, usually expensive, and most likely ignored until the proper occasion presents itself).

    Dogs owned by the latter are usually confined to a relatively small space (frequently an undersized doghouse), in an area that is sporadically policed, fed on an indifferent schedule with bargain brand dog food, and groomed or cleaned up only when convenient.

    Despite the relative indifference shown them, these dogs inevitably will leap with joy at their master’s approach, even if it’s only a momentary stop for a scrap of food or bowl of water; if given a friendly pat on the head or tummy rub, these grateful creatures go into near-fits of ecstasy. It was with great sadness that I used to observe these occasions (my nearest neighbor has dealt with his dogs like this for years).

    But one day it struck me that perhaps that’s exactly how the Lord reacts when the indifferent among us occasionally relapse into faith. Despite our poor attitudes, irregular attendance, and spotty feeding record, we are always welcomed back with enthusiasm.

    Here’s a second perspective. My four dogs have a play space of about 15 wooded acres. They feature ravines, creeks, mud holes, skunks, snakes, ‘possums, ticks, more ticks, and piles of indescribably smelly stuff that dogs love to roll in. Although they’ve become irregular occurrences, some come home either smelling terribly or slightly injured…almost invariably at night , usually accompanied by rain.

    And it is on these occasions that I minister to them; I realize it is a poor imitation of Christ. But when I consider the many times I have gone through these cleansing rituals and their accompanying admonishments, I’m amazed at my capacity to forgive – not once but many times. Yet we are told, and I expect, to have the same consideration shown us by the Lord.

    And it saddens me to find it difficult to make half the effort for my brothers and sisters in Christ. But the dogs remind me of how much He endures without giving up on us, yet how short we fall in carrying out His commission.

    Our dogs are more Christ-like people than we.

  28. Theresa says:

    Dear Monsignor Pope:

    I have lived my entire life with pets, dogs, horses, cats, birds, hamsters, pigeons and other assorted creatures. They all have their own personalities and quirkes. The wonderful thing about God’s creatures is they do accept us for who we are and are loving (different degrees for different species) all their lives. Dogs, don’t judge, but then again neither do birds, cats, etc. They all possess an innocence that I feel God allows us to share, if we open our minds and our hearts.
    The sadness is in the fact that we don’t extend our compassion and love to God’s other creatures. Mercy for Animals has videos that challenge us as God’s chosen people to care for ALL creation in a respectful and merciful way.

    God bless you,

    Msgr. Pope.

  29. Caeli Francisco says:

    I had a young dog in the years 2003 to 2005,whom I called Luki. This dog, as my parish priest remarked, was a true catholic dog: he convinced me that the Catholic Church is the Church for me through a dog-healing miracle; he swallowed an entire rosary and he was sprinkled with holy water when the priest blessed my house. I joined the Catholic Church in 2004 and was confirmed in 2005, after Luki was gone. Its now 6 years later and I still miss him.

  30. Ben DeVries says:

    Thank you, Charles, for this beautiful post, and the touching memories and poems you shared. It was very meaningful to read. Best wishes, Ben (Not One Sparrow, a Christian voice for animals)

  31. Christine M says:

    To Concerned: Since you admonish Theresa Henderson that she needs to stick to what’s in the Bible, I thought I should reply….Animals (and all creation) are merely the victims of the curse…when God restores the earth and we live in the fullness of His Glory, surely animals will be there just as they were in the beginning. God delights in all His creatures. Please take another look at Genesis and the rest of the Bible. And seek God’s heart.

  32. Michelle says:

    We lost our beloved dog Darcy yesterday to an emergency caused by a tumor we didn’t know she had. Darcy was with us for 13 years, and was my house-dog companion each day as I was blessed enough to work from home. She was often too smart, and we catered to her playfulness and manipulative indulgences. She was so full of character and faithfulness, I know she was a God-chosen gift to our family.

    Although The Bible doesn’t note that dogs and cats are special, God chose to put animals in His perfect place on earth–The garden of Eden. And Adam’s job was to name them all and tend to them. Yes, God knows how special they are to us! There is no doubt that He is the creator of our special our bond with them, and for that gift, I will forever be grateful. We will miss you, Darcy, and will always love you.

    Thank you for a beautiful blog to help me grieve.

  33. tex1520 says:

    Is it just me? While i was reading your great post, I had tears rolling down my cheeks. Specially because I understand when you say that they show unconditional love to the hands that feed them. I too have a little one that smiles. Her name is Trixie, she is a Chihuahua Jack Russell mix. She us full of joy and loves to show her sincere love. Right at this moment, I am laying down and both Peanut and Trixie have me surrounded.

  34. Eric says:

    Msgr., I actually can think of one place that alludes to something very positive about dogs. When the woman tells Christ that even the puppies get the scraps that fall from the table, I get a sense that there is a vaguely Eucharistic connotation to this. And it struck me one day watching the pug my wife and I used to have–dogs received what falls because they faithfully sit by the feet of their Master! Given the height of the Eucharist, it may be that the Holy Spirit has helped redeemed the Scriptural image of dogs by alluding to their faithfulness in a potentially Eucharistic passage! : )

    Peace to you.

  35. Richard says:

    I have a theory; it’s my theology of dogs, really. Here it is: At the beginning of time God instructed Adam to name all the animals. The creatures eagerly came to him. In Adam, they saw the image of their Creator, and they knew he loved them and that he’d care for them.

    After Adam and Eve’s Fall, that relationship was shattered. Even today, when we walk into our own backyards, the squirrels and chipmunks don’t come toward us, they run away. All the animals avoid us now — except dogs. Dogs see something in us the other animals don’t. They greet us like we’re long lost brothers. They wag their tails. They jump on us. They love us, and they forgive us quickly and entirely.

    I’m sure that God has given us dogs as a first-fruit — a foretaste — of what the world will be like when His redemptive plan comes to full fruition. Then, the whole of creation will be interwoven and interconnected exactly as He intended. The lions and tigers will run up to us, eager again to see those who bear their Creator’s image, and we’ll cherish their company — these creatures God made and entrusted to our care.

    Our dogs are a glimpse of heaven, all curled up on our kitchen floor.

  36. George says:

    If people want to read more about dogs and the Christian faith, and about if dogs can go to heaven or not, this is a very good site –
    Godlovesdogs.com

  37. Bill says:

    The poem your dad wrote about his Dalmatian really hit home for me. When you dad says “And had missed you, Even as I do now” I felt your dad’s heart a little broken, as mine had been when I lost my Dalmatian. I still miss her very much and always will. It’s been more then three years since she died in my wifes, and my arms. She never had a day of pain in her 16 plus years. Even at her death she just took a few last deep breaths and went to the long sleep. She even brought me closer to the Mother. I prayed to her that I would not have to put her down, and as always, Mary answerd my prayer, and my friend died naturally in my arms.

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