two dogs on a window sill

In Praise of Dogs

God got a dog. . .
And now God
has somebody Keeping her feet warm at night.

Cynthia Rylant and Maria Frazee

I opened the paper one morning last week to see the heartbreaking picture of a Mom and Dad comforting their two little girls over the loss of their two border collies, Lola and Sunny. Lola and Sunny were two of the 75 dogs lost in the fire at a kennel in Georgetown. I also have two border collies, Darcy and Moze; I gave them extra hugs and treats all day that day. And I shed some tears and said some prayers for the lost pets and their owners. On any given day there are numerous heartbreaking situations reported in the news, and I have found a way to keep these stories at bay most of the time, because the suffering and loss is simply too much to take in and process every day. But the story of the lost dogs was not abstract in the least. It was immediately present to me in the soft brown eyes and trusting faces of Darcy and Moze.

A wise person once commented that a dog’s life is only a small portion of your life, but you are all of your dog’s life. Even now as I write this, Moze is curled up at my feet, patiently waiting for me to get up and play with him. He likes nothing better than to play catch with his tennis ball. He is fanatic about this, as border collies tend to be. Once when Moze was a puppy, we had a trainer come to the house to work with him. When we took her into the backyard to meet him, Moze immediately assumed she was a new playmate. He proceeded to bring his tennis ball to her and when she didn’t throw it for him he ran to find another ball and dropped it at her feet. This went on for about ten minutes until Moze had dropped about twenty tennis balls at the trainers feet! My husband and I had no idea where he had stashed all these tennis balls. But Moze was like a magician pulling one ball after another out of his proverbial top hat.

When Darcy was a puppy she managed to crawl under our deck and get out of the yard. Luckily she had on a name tag with both my husband’s and my work numbers. So when a kindly gentleman walking down our street found her; he called us both and lovingly placed Darcy back in the yard. Meanwhile, my husband raced home to block her escape route under the deck. Darcy is now six years old and I think often of the thoughtfulness and consideration of that neighbor–Darcy’s guardian angel.

One of my previous border collies, Binx, was so sensitive to our moods that whenever one of us raised our voice in excitement over something that had happened to us during that day or in outrage at the latest political drama, Binx, who weighed about forty-five pounds, would jump in one of our laps. He would also do this when I was working on a document that suddenly disappeared from my laptop. I’m afraid I exclaimed a few choice words in dismay over the lost document. Binx would immediately jump in my lap–never mind that the laptop was already there. But it did have the effect of making me laugh and thereby comforting me. I have read that just petting a dog can bring down one’s blood pressure. For that reason and innumerable other ones, dogs are good for our health.

Finally, dogs save us by grounding us in the physical world. They take us out of our busy and worried minds. They free us from self-absorption. They bring us into the here and now. They remind us that the Divine Mystery that we call God is present in the physical world and is not just some abstract concept floating around in space. Mystics and saints of all traditions tell us that the contemplative life–a life of mindful presence–is anchored in the heart. We become our truest selves when our brain waves and heart waves are entrained. The theologian, Beverley Lanzetta, says that “We are made and composed of Divine Love; we know a loving God who does not withdraw.” If you have a dog then you know that one of the ways we are reminded of this Loving Presence with us is through the faithful companionship of our dogs, and we also receive the additional comfort of having somebody to keep our feet warm at night.

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