The Delight of Dogs (and cats)

This morning on The Writer’s Almanac, Garrison Keillor read a fine poem about dogs. Written by Aaron Kramer, the words and images capture in beautiful concision what it means to live in the company of beloved canine companions.

Our family’s life is graced by the presence of three dogs. Pete is a nine-year-old Springer Spaniel–handsome, loyal, and slightly caddish. Dexter is a three-year-old hybrid cross of Pug and Jack Russell Terrier, possessing an amazing vertical leap, a winsome face, and a well-developed Napoleon Complex. Dexter really belongs to my oldest daughter and is only living with us until her return from teaching overseas, but we have come to love him as our own. Finally there is Sandy, a six-year-old Beagle-Sheltie mix who divides her time along with my spouse’s children between two homes. Sandy is known for an ear-splitting bark, dark, soulful eyes, and a joie de vivre that is only occasionally interrupted by the sounds of thunder and fireworks.

Spatchy the pastel tabby cat (whose full name is Sargeant Spatula thanks to my daughter’s phase of naming pets after kitchen utensils) manages to maintain her dignity amidst the canine craziness; sometimes she even acts more like a dog than a cat. Spatchy is a dairy barn cat from upstate New York, a gift from friends who has delighted us now for seven years. We have to keep a close eye on her; she has a fondness for trying to digest decorative ribbon and cut flowers, and she loves to climb Christmas trees. She is a fierce huntress of flashlight beams and bugs, and she much prefers the indoors to the outside world.

While I shudder to think of the total amount of money we have invested in vet bills, kennel fees, and the various accoutrements that go along with pet ownership, I would not hesitate for one second to count the cost worth it. They bring joy to our lives and and are the embodiment of unselfish love and devotion. Their needs are simple, and their capacity to give knows no limits. Like humans, they have their foibles; Pete and Dexter are cunning kitchen thieves, Dex and Spatchy could rival Houdini when it comes to escapes and devious hiding places, and Sandy is the queen of the world, demanding her subjects’ affection with vociferous pronouncements. Nonetheless, our lives are much richer with these four-legged friends.

A seminary professor and fellow dog enthusiast once reminded me that “dog” is God spelled backwards. Indeed, our canine friends are beloved creations of the Divine One and reflect well the love and compassion of our Creator. Theologians and people of faith have argued through the ages about the role and place of animals and their ultimate fate. I tend to side with St. Francis of Assisi who called the animals his “brothers and sisters” and who held all creatures in high esteem. Perhaps you are familiar with hymn text he wrote that begins “All creatures, worship God most high! Sound every voice in earth and sky…”

What happens to our pets ultimately? I do not care to speculate. What I do know and find comforting are the words attributed to St. Paul in the letter to the Colossians in describing the “cosmic” Christ:

He was supreme in the beginning and–leading the resurrection parade–he is supreme in the end. From beginning to end he’s there, towering far above everything, everyone. So spacious is he, so roomy, that everything of God finds its proper place in him without crowding. Not only that, but all the broken and dislocated pieces of the universe–people and things, animals and atoms–get properly fixed and fit together in vibrant harmonies, all because of his death, his blood that poured down from the cross.” (Colossians 1:18-20, The Message by Eugene Peterson)

Pete, Dexter, Sandy, and Spatchy enrich our lives, model love and contentment, AND never fail to surprise, delight, and amaze. I am thankful for their presence in our home and lives.

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