I wrote the following article for my church's newsletter. I wrote the following poem just for fun. I hope my fellow dog lovers will enjoy them both.
|Luc-Olivier Merson (1840-1920) "The Wolf of Agubbio" (1877) Note the wolf wears a halo!|
“God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good.” (Gen. 1:31a)
I’ve been thinking a lot about dogs lately. As many of you know, Marilyn and I recently lost our beloved pet of almost fourteen years, our shih tzu dog, Greta. A dear Christian friend offered us some comfort, but reminded us that dogs were not made in the image of God. Of course I am always grateful for any expression of kindness and sympathy at a time like this, but I have to wonder if, perhaps, my friend isn’t putting too strict an interpretation on Genesis. After all, doesn’t the Bible say God’s spirit moved over the chaos? Isn’t the breath of God the source of all life, not just human life?
When I was a little kid in Sunday School, I was told that only human beings have souls. Animals don’t have souls according to the dictates of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod of the 1960’s. But as a long-time pet owner, and as one who has found himself in relationship with non-human life, I have to marvel at the interconnectedness and the sharing of personalities which I see in God’s “lesser” creatures.
There’s a great story about St. Francis of Assisi. You’ll remember that Francis was said to preach to the birds of the air and called the sun his “brother” and the moon his “sister.” He felt a great connectedness to God in all of the created world. Once, a legend goes, the Umbrian town of Gubbio was being ravaged by a vicious wolf. The wolf killed all of the livestock outside the city walls and menaced the human beings who lived within. Francis, in the spirit of forgiveness, is said to have bravely gone outside the walls of Gubbio, found the offending wolf in its lair, and talked it out of attacking the good people of the town. Subsequently, the townspeople adopted the wolf as their pet, feeding it from their doors, and gave it a Christian burial when it died. This legend dates from the thirteenth century, but when the church of Gubbio was renovated in the nineteenth century, the skeletal remains of an enormous wolf were discovered buried beneath a slab near the church’s wall. The church members re-buried the skeleton inside the church as a holy relic and symbol of God’s love for all creation.
I can’t say for theological certainty that we’ll see our pets in Heaven—although I certainly hope we will. I can marvel, however, that God was good enough to give us such wonderful companions and examples of divine love and obedience here on earth. For centuries dogs have helped humans hunt, retrieved our kill, and protected out homes and our livestock. They have rid our homes and farms of vermin. They have found lost travelers, pursued fleeing criminals, and alerted us when rescue was needed. They have pulled sleds and carts. They have kept us warm in the winter. They have turned spits in ancient kitchens. They’ve herded sheep and pigs and other livestock. They have been eyes for the blind, ears for the deaf, and hands for the disabled. They have warned us of the approach of cancer, stroke, seizures, and heart attacks (For real! One of my neighbors was able to call 911 when his Yorkie jumped on his chest, revived him by licking his face, and saved his life just before he passed out and coded). They have sniffed out drugs, bombs, and illegal firearms and protected our police and military. They have been companions for those suffering from post-traumatic stress, and they have reawakened the spirits of dementia patients. They have been our friends in loneliness and despair. They have made us smile with their antics, and helped us get our needed exercise by insisting we walk them and play with them. They have loved and protected our children, rejoiced in our joy, and cheered us in our sorrow.
The late journalist and TV commentator Andy Rooney once said, “I think we can all agree: Dogs are nice. In fact, most dogs are nicer people than most people.” What a blessing our Lord gave us in our companionship with these creatures! If we are to understand God’s unconditional love and devotion to the human race, we can find no better example than our family dog. We might do well to let our canine friends teach us the simple joys found in wind and sunshine, and the pleasure to be had in obedience to our Master.
In Celebration of Greta
October 4, 2003 – June 13, 2017
Shih tzus come from China, so I guess they’re Oriental.
They don’t serve any function, they’re rather ornamental;
Yet when I think of MY OWN dog, I get quite sentimental.
She was eleven pounds of love wrapped in fur of black and white
With a little Teddy Bear black nose and a friendly underbite.
Oh! If you’d ever seen her, she’d fill you with delight.
She had a way about her that just turned your heart to jelly
When she leapt into your lap and made you rub her belly.
(And, by the way, she was awful clean and very rarely smelly!)
Sometimes she’d bark at strangers, but that was just her way.
She’d jump and paw their trousers. I think she tried to say,
“Hello, friend! I’m Greta. Would you like to play?”
Greta learned a little game she’d play with Marilyn and me.
We’d throw a chew toy in the air and count off “One, two, three!”
Then Greta caught it in her mouth—an impressive sight to see.
Our little doggie slept each night on a pad beside our bed
And woke at six as if to say, “Hey, Dad! It’s time I’m fed!”
But first we’d have to cuddle and I’d scratch her ears and head.
Then I’d pour her out a bowl of her favorite kibble
Which with relish she’d attack and daintily she’d nibble,
Then do her morning ‘business’ (I’d wipe her lest she dribble).
Should I come home in a bad mood, feeling somewhat pissed,
Greta always made me smile. You see, she would insist
I notice how she wagged her tail to tell me I was missed.
Greta only misbehaved when I took her to be groomed.
She’d whine and poop and carry on and acted as if doomed,
But she’d come home so beautifully clipped, bathed, and perfumed.
The groomers always understood—they had marvelous tact.
They’d say, “She’s faking all this angst. She’s putting on an act.
She NEVER gives US trouble, and that’s the honest fact.”
And, if I do say so myself, the groomers’ praise was true.
She really was the sweetest girl who’d never bite or chew.
I challenge anyone to find a worthier shih tzu.
Her antics were so whimsical. She was NEVER boring,
And when she snuggled up to you, you couldn’t help adoring.
Though it seems odd for me to say, she was even cute when snoring!
We loved her little smooshed-in face, it gave us so much joy.
We loved the way she’d wag her tail for her new squeaky toy—
Or the way that she’d play tug-o-war: she growled just like a boy!
But now that she’s in Heaven I just miss her company:
The way she’d nestle at my feet and gaze lovingly at me.
We wished she’d live forever, but that is not to be.
We think of her each morning: how we’d cuddle and we’d kiss her.
Perhaps she wasn’t perfect, but now we’d never “dis” her.
She was part of the family and—OMG!—we miss her.
See: if you love your doggie, you’ll never feel regret.
She’s one member of your tribe who’ll give more than she’ll get.
If you think money can’t buy love, you’ve not bought a puppy yet.
Most dogs are nicer people than some people you might know.
They’re loving, loyal, forgiving, and affection they will show.
Perhaps dogs are the noblest of all creatures here below.