Dog days

Puppy love opens our eyes to see God's hand in the world
October 14, 2008

My wife, Bryna, and I missed the whole online dating thing. When we were married in 1995, was not even a gleam in the Internet's eye. I'm not complaining; I can't imagine a picture of someone in a clerical collar gets many hits. But I do feel like I made up for it recently.


That's because I finally caved in to my boys' incessant lobbying for a dog. Knowing next to nothing about pet adoption, we went where else? To the Internet.

It turns out there are numerous pet adoption sites out there. So we narrowed our search to local shelters and rescue agencies and started "shopping."

Hundreds of pictures of all sorts of dogs came up along with accompanying descriptions. So you'd see an angry-looking pit bull with the comment "not good with young children" or a cute little beagle with the observation "mostly housebroken." Never having experienced it, this is precisely how I imagine online dating works -- pictures of people next to descriptions like "hates watching Monday Night Football" or "leaves the cap off the toothpaste."

This process of online doggy dating quickly became a family affair. The four of us gathered intently around the computer quickly judging the dogs by their covers, or fur in this case. And when we saw the 1-year-old yellow lab-husky mix, we all knew this was the dog for us.

After filling out an amazingly detailed application that included three references, we went to meet her and fell in love. She was gentle, sweet and starved for attention. We found out from her handler that she was saved from a kill shelter in South Carolina -- literally a "dead dog walking" until Pet Rescue stepped in to live up to its name.

The joke of this is that I'm really not a dog person. I grew up with cats, but since Bryna's allergic to them, she's always made it quite clear that it's either her or a cat. So when the ceaseless lobbying first started, I tried to be strong.

I also knew I'd be the one destined to walk the dog in the pouring rain while Ben and Zack were at sleepovers or doing homework or off to college. And, after all, we do have a goldfish. But, as Ben pointed out, "You can't pet a fish, Dad." No, but they don't need to be walked, don't shed, and no one's ever been known to step in fish poop.

This didn't fly. Perhaps getting a dog was inevitable, but I still cling to my conspiracy theory: Between Clifford, Scooby-Doo and McDuff, parents are bombarded with images of cute, adorable and crime-fighting dogs. Children's literature would have you believe that childhood without a dog is a form of parental abuse.

Of course, everyone in the family ignored my arguments, and so Delilah has become the newest member of our family. Yes, I claimed naming rights. Assuming I'd be outside yelling her name for the entire neighborhood to hear, I refused Zack's suggestion of Chippy. I needed to retain some shred of dignity in this process.

In early October, many Christian churches honor the little-known St. Fido. Officially we celebrate St. Francis Day on October 4, but in many parishes this is merely an excuse to bless pets. I'm not sure how St. Francis would feel about this, but he probably wouldn't mind. His concern for all God's creatures lends itself to the tradition. And it could be worse: At least his statues aren't buried upside down to facilitate a house sale, à la St. Joseph.

Most pet blessings incorporate a wonderful blend of holy chaos -- yelping dogs, skittish cats, hissing snakes. Precisely how I envision the hold on Noah's ark, except with vestments.

St. Francis Day blessings provide profound testimony to the value we place upon the animals with whom we share our homes. And I was thrilled to be able to bring and bless Delilah the fall after we adopted her. We finally had a pet to bring! Transporting goldfish really doesn't work well.

But this is more than just a tale of suburban dog ownership. It's really a story of conversion (my own) and redemption (Delilah's).

When we view our lives through the lens of the gospel, we tend to see God's hand most clearly. Considering the parables of Jesus are stories of everyday life, this is nothing new. Pets can open our eyes to the divine qualities of love and compassion. That's really why we bless our pets in October.

But you don't need a pet to see that the human condition is full of encounters with death and resurrection, conversion and redemption. We just need to open our eyes to the surprising possibilities that surround us. There are lessons to be gleaned that transcend the superficial plane of our existence.

They can be found everywhere -- through our relationships (human, divine and canine) and in the seemingly routine events of our lives. If a cat or a dog or even a snake can point the way toward harmony among us, what better way to honor the legacy of St. Francis?

We've come to love and cherish the newest member of our family, who's got me wrapped around her paw. She comes to the office with me, and she's become my faithful running partner.

Of course, I also hear the words of the Prayer of Humble Access from the Book of Common Prayer in a new light: "We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy table." We'll just leave that to Delilah.

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