On the Dignity and Delightfulness of Dogs

100314God gives, and has given, many gifts. One of the great gifts he gave me in the past was the gift of our family dogs. On the feast of St. Francis of Assisi, it is interesting to ponder what he would have thought about dogs. Domesticated dogs are a rather modern phenomenon and it is quite likely that in Francis’ time dogs were considered more feral and even vicious pack animals that ran wild.

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.” But in recent centuries we have really taken dogs into our hearts and through training and animal husbandry converted their pack loyalty into a kind of friendship and an image of almost unconditional “love.”

Yes, 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 greet me and curl up next to me; they are 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.


  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 these are simple but profound lessons, lived without words and 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 was a commanding presence in our backyard as he laid down the law with squirrels and other would-be intruders. Prince loved to go for car rides. When we took him for a walk, it was really he who walked us, so powerful was his pull. 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 wagging 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 lie on the floor near the sofa and doze off to sleep. Soon enough his legs would start moving, and he’d start huffing and even barking as he dreamed. No doubt he was in the midst of a great chase.

In his last two years Prince began to decline and this gave me my first close lesson in aging and death. Gradually, the majestic dog grew crippled and struggled even to walk. I learned to give him aspirin and  that helped him for a while. But there came a time when his walking grew rare and finally 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 upon 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)

Attachment-1(1)Next came Missy (pictured at left), 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 romping for hours in the yard or in the nearby field. She was a tender little dog who seemed traumatized when we left the house and joyous when we returned. She loved to snuggle close and really stole my parents hearts. Of her, my father wrote upon 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 whatever happened. She even seemed happy when she went to the kennel to stay while 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, never giving a day of trouble; she was 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 Molly was charmed. She had been diagnosed with liver cancer, but never seemed to be in any pain. The very day she died, she had romped about in the yard and come in to sleep in her own little bed. Molly died while she was napping. 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 designed by you to be our close companions. Thank you for the gifts of Prince, 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:

And who can forget Faith, the walking dog, who manifests that handicaps can be overcome?

27 Replies to “On the Dignity and Delightfulness of Dogs”

  1. You said it all. When my pet dog passed away I painted a picture of a dog in the sunset ( not an original). But it helped me deal with her loss. I sort of wanted to remember her that way waiting for me to join her….God willing. Its been 8 yrs since I lost her. Thanks for this post.

  2. Yes, yes, yes! Dogs are truly great gifts from God (and I maintain that the same goes for cats). They seem to have been created *just* to be our allies and comfort, to protect and serve and snuggle up with us. Hearing stories such as that of “Greyfriar’s Bobby” really drives the point home in a big way. Dogs offer unconditional “love” to a degree that most humans can only struggle to emulate. God bless all doggies! And God be praised for creating them! (Animal lovers might like this page, which talks about animals as signs, animals and the Saints, etc.: http://www.fisheaters.com/animals.html )

    It’s funny how so many people (myself included, sadly) are more *emotionally* affected by stories of cruelty to dogs than they are of cruelty to adult human beings. Kinda warped, but — there it is.

  3. Did you notice–the Jack Russell looks to his mistress for cues before he starts his trick and after for approval—he does what he does in that wonderful, close, unconditional relationship of dogs…..of course, there’s food from the hand of his mistress involved too….fodder for another blog post? WONDERFUL way to start my morning. Thanks, Msgr! (PS Irish setters smile too…)

  4. I think how people interact (or don’t) with domestic animals says a lot about them.

  5. Reading the Scripture below and in context, I can’t help but wonder if all God’s creation will be restored, “liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God”. Even so as “we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.” so too will “creation” be “liberated”, of course not as “the children of God” but as God’s creation that “waits in eager expectation”. Just wondering… “in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.”

    It think the comparing of the whole creation waiting, groaning to be brought into freedom, and that comparison to ourselves who are in hope for the redemption of our bodies, I think this is what makes me wonder, and there are the mysteries of God, what will be revealed I do not know, but still I do not limit God in my “hope” and what He does or will do, God’s WILL be done!!

    Romans 8: 18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 19 For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.

    22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

  6. What has also touched me, was in the Bible, in the book of Tobit on the journey, Chapter 6 Verse 2, “the dog followed Tobiah out of the house and went with them” On returning home Chapter 11 verse 4 “and the dog ran along behind them.” Not only did the Angel Raphael accompany Tobiah on his journey, the family dog did also. And God has allowed this to be know in His Inspired Word, The Family dog was important enough to be mentioned. 🙂

  7. This is a really great post. I am not much of a dog person but I am definitely a cat person. That said, I may very well be wrong but I strongly believe that cats and dogs do love us. Precious shows me love in numerous ways. She often kisses me by giving me a single lick on my hand. She will also place the top of her head against me for a few seconds. In addition, she loves to fall asleep on my belly or in my lap. From what I understand of cat behavior, the first two are signs of affection from cats and the last is a sign of deep trust.

  8. I like to think that God gave us dogs to teach us how to love one another and Saints to teach us how to love Him.

  9. Thank you, Father, for this moving reflection. I share your love of dogs (and animals in general) and I also have poignant memories of my dog which perished due to human spitefulness. In fact, there is at least one positive mention of this animal in the Bible, the “little dog” of Tobias. Unfortunately, as far as the compassion for animals is concerned, Christianity lags very far behind Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism.

  10. Amen. To paraphrase Benjamin Franklin’s observation about beer, dogs are proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.

  11. I love this! We adopted a dog that was terribly abused, found wandering the streets with a shattered back leg. After a little love ( and understanding ), a missing back leg, she is giving it back a hundred fold!
    Here’s a quote I like:

    “Saving one dog will not change the world, but surely for that one dog, the world will change forever.”
    – Karen Davison

  12. Msgr. Pope, thank you so much for your article about dogs, the incarnation of God’s laughter. Your father’s poetry is beautiful but brings back the heart wrenching sadness we have experienced with our own losses. Of course, they’re not people and we can’t ‘ensoul’ them like the PETA crazies but, considering how unpleasant some of those people are, it’s tempting.

  13. We had to have our beloved Lucy put to sleep last night. While burying her, I realized it was the vigil of St. Francis’ feast day. God’s handiwork is everywhere.

  14. Dogs can teach us important lessons in freedom. A dog who obeys his master has more freedom than a dog who runs around doing whatever his instincts tell him to do. Well-trained dogs, like service dogs, can become almost human, and are welcome in places that would not permit untrained dogs. A loyal, obedient dog has eyes only for his master, and tries to fulfill his master’s will. We should be so loyal and obedient to our Lord! Then we can be elevated to be adopted sons and daughters of God. Maybe dogs are man’s best friends because they teach us how we can be more than human, we can be saints.

    1. Stephanie, Thank you for your insightful comment. Dogs are truly “man’s best friend”, especially if we listen to their message of unconditional love and forgiveness.

  15. Like Sue above I thought of the book of Tobit when I read this great article. I only recently finished reading a novel from Ignatius press called Tobit’s Dog that I really enjoyed. Then came the feast of the archangels, with of course Raphael who is mentioned in the book of Tobit. It makes me think God is wanting me to head down to the pound to look for a dog to rescue!

  16. There is a beautifully animated short story (Oscar nominated) that can be found on YouTube called “Adam and Dog”. I didn’t “get it” until the end, but when I did, I think this must be an inspired work.

    I’ve had three dogs, all since I’ve been married, and they have been great, loyal, enjoy-the-moment companions.

  17. In the Douay Rheims translation, Tobit’s dog is definitely a sympathetic figure: “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.”. The textual history of Tobit is not entirely Semitic, and includes early versions in languages from other cultures more dog friendly.

  18. My daughter and I took our two cats (19-lb Louis-cat and 2.5-lb Bartholomew-kitten) to our parish’s Blessing of the Animals.

    The dogs in attendance were enthusiastic about the event. They checked out all of the people and animals, yapped and wagged their tails.

    The cats in attendance were less so. They sat in their carriers, with their rear ends facing the carriers’ front (with the exception of Bartholomew-kitten, who seemed confused about the whole thing).

  19. I just enjoy my pets so much: as a retired RN who lives alone they are my room mates and companions. Here’s the retinue – Gracie, my Maltese dog with a personality that won’t quit. Three parakeets, Tweety, Petie and Sweetie. Then there’s my 2 Diamond Doves, Lovie and Dovie and last but not least three Society Finch and a fourth really beautiful finch I have named Joseph because of his coat of many colors ., he’s gorgeous.
    There’s mention in the Book of Job in the Bible re animals and what we can learn from them. ( Job 12:7-10) ” But ask the beasts, and they will teach you; the birds of the air, and they will tell you; or the plants of the earth, and they will teach you; and the fish of the sea will declare to you. Who among all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this? In his hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of all mankind.”

  20. I love your father’s poems! We just got our first dog in May, a rescue – Rudy, who is a sight to behold, half poodle and half Havanese (Havapoo or Poovanese, take your pick). He is the joy of our lives! Thank you so much for sharing this. That unconditional love only a dog (and God) can give truly teaches a lesson every day, every moment.

  21. Thank you Monsignor! I have an incurable love of animals (no, I’m not one of THOSE people!) and find it hard to understand people who don’t like them.

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