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:
- Never pass up the opportunity to go for a joy ride.
- Allow the experience of fresh air and the wind in your face to be pure ecstasy.
- When loved ones come home, always run to greet them.
- Let others know when they’ve invaded your territory.
- Take naps and stretch before rising.
- Run, romp, and play daily.
- Eat with gusto and enthusiasm.
- Be loyal.
- If what you want lies buried, dig until you find it.
- When someone is having a bad day, be silent, sit close by and nuzzle them gently.
- Thrive on attention and let people touch you.
- Avoid biting when a simple growl will do.
- When you’re happy, dance around and wag your entire body.
- No matter how often you’re scolded, don’t buy into the guilt thing and pout…. run right back and make friends
- 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:
You are down,
You are up;
In jumps and traces
In secret places,
You have really
Struck a nerve,
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: