Tag Archives: dogs

More than JUST a Dog

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On Wednesday evening, January 18, we said goodbye to our family’s faithful canine companion whose full name was Beechwood’s Peter Rabbit, but who was affectionately known simply as Pete. He was 14 and a half years old, had been with us since he was a pup, lived in four states, seven homes, and was the most wonderful goofball of a Springer Spaniel I’ve ever encountered. He was more than JUST a dog.

Pete’s heart was strong right up to the end, even though his body was fast failing him. I’m convinced his big heart was so full of love for us that he kept on going on the strength of that alone. This good dog would just gaze at us with eyes full of love, and he was always girls-pete-2002there with a lick, a nuzzle, and warm fur coat ready to hug after a hard or horrible day. Even the best of days were better with Pete because of his zest for living. You see, he was more than JUST a dog.

It’s taken me a while to write about Pete’s death because of my grief and because the decision to euthanize him was one of the toughest I’ve had to make. It was, I am certain, the right thing to do. Pete had reached the point where his back legs were no longer supporting him, he was losing control of his bodily functions on a regular basis, and the neon signs of doggy dementia were clearly evident. Still, it was an agonizing choice because Pete was much more than JUST a dog.

This good boy walked with our family through some really tough times. We drenched his brown and white fur with our tears on many occasions. He carried us in his paws of love and loyalty through a difficult and traumatic divorce, through the aches and pains of two daughters’ growing up, and through my bout with breast cancer. One of my most treasured memories of Pete is the image of him curled up at my feet after every chemo treatment watching me, never taking his eyes off me to make sure I was going to be all right. Pete held so much of our family’s pain, fears, hopes, and dreams in that big heart of his with no  expectations beyond our affection and a few biscuits. When I married the love of my life five plus years ago, Pete gladly transferred some of his allegiance to Rob. Pete had more than enough love to go around. He was just that kind of dog, and he was way more than JUST a dog.

Pete was eight when a pickup truck clipped him, and we almost lost him. He came through the ordeal in typical Pete style, and although he spent the rest of his days on a daily regimen of drugs, really never missed a beat. Sometimes I wondered if anything could do that dog in. One Christmas he managed to get an entire pan of rising yeast rolls off of the counter and into his belly before any of us could get into the kitchen. Then we learned what rising yeast does in a warm, moist tummy. His poor stomach ballooned up, and we spent a long time walking the miserable pup around town trying to get him to rescind his potentially deadly snack. He did, but rather than outside he chose to deposit his yeasty offering on the blue carpet right in front of the Christmas tree.  Oh, Pete. You were much more than JUST a dog.

The boy definitely had no governor on his appetite. Throughout his life he downed entire pans of brownies, plates of cookies, assorted sandwiches, pounds of ham, steaks stolen off plates, a large bag of brown sugar, and a pound of Kilwin’s dark chocolate truffles with a wag of nub and happy-go-lucky-but-guilty look on his face. Pete had a sideways stealth move that was second to none. From kibble to groundhog and everything in between, the boy surely enjoyed his victuals. Even so, he was so much more than JUST a dog.

img_0363Dogs may be  man’s [sic] best friend, but Pete was definitely this woman’s faithful companion and sounding board, and I miss him so much. One of my seminary professors, the late Rev. Dr. Sue Hedahl, often quipped that “dog” is “God” spelled backwards. Maybe that helps explain our canine companions’ purpose in our lives, to help show that unmerited, unconditional love of our Creator. Oh yes, Pete was more than JUST a dog.

We tried to make Pete’s last day with us as good for him as possible. We bought him a McDonald’s cheeseburger and cut it into pieces which he ate bite by bite with clear relish. He enjoyed a Starbuck’s “pupaccino” (whipped cream in an espresso cup). When I told the barista what the occasion was she wrote his name on the cup and drew a paw print. He even had a photo shoot thanks to Aaron Amato Photography. I give special thanks to the wonderful and compassionate team at Colonial Park Animal Clinic for how they handled this difficult step. This great group of folks truly cared for our beloved boy, and they showed it in spades that January night. Thank you. I know you all understand that Pete was more than JUST a dog.

Pete’s cremains came home in a lovely carved box this week, and it’s good to have at least some element of him back. Part of me wishes he came with instructions “mix with water and watch your puppy come bounding back into your life.” But none of us, no creature, is meant to live forever in these flesh, blood, and bone bodies. There’s much more to life and death and eternity than that. I take comfort in the scientific principle that matter doesn’t go out of existence but only changes form (sorry for the non-scientific way of saying img_0231this) and in the words of the writer of Colossians

So spacious is he [Christ], 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. (1:19-20, The Message)

You see, Pete was more than JUST a dog to me and to my family. If you have pets I’m pretty sure you understand what I mean. Another way to spell dog, I think, is L-O-V-E pure and simple, and love never dies. Knowing that, I’ll just gaze into the clear night skies and try to see my beloved Springer Pete romping as floppy-eared stardust across the cosmos with his brother and litter-mate Fred by his side. Good dog, Pete. Good, good dog.

Photos: Black and white photo courtesy Aaron Amato Photography.

 

Day Two: Devotions, Daughters, & Dogs

For more than three years I have used Murray D. Finck’s Stretch and Pray program. Granted, I go through periods where I practice this discipline more faithfully than other times, but I keep returning to it because it works. Finck is an ELCA bishop (Pacifica Synod), and he developed Stretch and Pray out of his experience on a four-week mini-sabbatical/pilgrimage to Thailand and Nepal led by Roy Oswald of the Alban Institute. At that time Finck suffered from chronic back pain from an injury that occurred 20 years earlier. On the trip, the participants began each morning with a series of stretches, postures, aerobic exercises and prayers. By the end of the trip, Finck’s pain was gone.

He is quick to point out that these sort of results may not happen for everyone, but I can attest to the benefits of Stretch and Pray. When I incorporate the program into my daily routine, I feel better — mentally, physically, and spiritually. It is a wonderfully simple, invigorating yet relaxing routine. I especially like the prayer postures at the end.

Honoring Relationships

I have two for day two — relationships to honor, that is. Today I want to give thanks for my daughters. They were born six years apart on the same day. I’ve known them for 24 and 18 years respectively, and they have taught me much about what it means to love, to be fully present, to be human, and to forgive (myself and others). I am proud to be their mother, and I am proud of who they are and are becoming. Thanks, ladies!

Giving Possessions

Today is your opportunity to have a copy of the Stretch and Pray DVD. I have decided to give my copy away to a reader. I have only used the DVD a few times, so I want to pass it on to someone who might benefit from it rather than have it collect dust on the shelf. Leave a comment at the end of this post. I’ll randomly select a name on Sunday, February 26, and then pass this copy along to the winner.

Thanksgiving

I am thankful for dogs, especially Pete and Dexter. Pete is our Springer Spaniel, and Dex belongs to my oldest daughter but has been living with us while she’s been overseas. A wise colleague in ministry once said that all ministers should have a dog. Why? Because at the end of a long, draining day a dog will still greet you at the door like you’re the most important person in the world. A dog will give you unconditional love and will never criticize or judge. This is true; however, Pete will eat anything that resembles food and isn’t nailed down, and Dexter will chew socks, books, and furniture. Oh, well! One can’t have everything.

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.