(A shorter form of this article can be found in the Summer Edition of INSPIRES – the Scottish Episcopal Church’s magazine – please subscribe for this excellent publication here: http://www.scotland.anglican.org/index.php/news/inspires_subscription_form/)
In this world, there are two types of people when it comes to pets. You either love them or hate them. I have found that there is little middle ground as the umbrella of Anglicanism is not prevalent in this forum. And, within those who love pets, there are several variations. Dog or cat, warm bloodied or cold bloodied, reptile or arachnid. People’s preferences are bizarre and extreme.
I am a dog person. I was a cat and dog person for the first 18 years of my life, but, after 18 years of wedded bliss to a man who is firmly in the dog arena; I am now a dog person. My first dog, who owned me as an adult, was a West Highland white terrier called Perry. He was a wedding present bought a mere two weeks after the marriage was consummated in law and in all other ways. I was not prepared to live in my new married quarter without a pet. However, Perry was the most difficult and challenging dog I have ever had the good fortune to encounter. And I loved him with a passion that surprised my conservative, English, repressed soul.
Our move to Aberdeen, where I was to be Curate, proved too much for the old boy and Perry passed away a week before Christmas, 2009, at the grand old age of 15 and a half. Arthritic, incontinent (thank heavens for doggy nappies), grouchy and toothless, we loved him to the end. And a hole in my heart, created on that snowy Thursday in December, has been waiting to be filled ever since.
This year we decided, as a family, that it was finally time to fill the space that Perry left. Something was missing and it wasn’t Perry anymore. We have another dog, Mason, whose breed goes by the grand title of a ‘Dundonian Pound Dog’. Loving but simple, Mason is, in many respects, ‘a bear of a very small brain’. He is 10 years old this year and beginning to feel his age, although none of us would dare mention it aloud. But the unspoken thought in all of our minds was what happens when Mason passes on to join Perry in the great Puppy Park in the sky? Being left without the joy of a dog was not an option.
And so we decided it would be either a holiday or a puppy this year. The puppy idea won. After saving up and being alerted by email of the single male Westie puppy born in Scotland this year, we prepared ourselves for the arrival of St Mungo of Glasgow.
The first moment I met Mungo when he was 5 weeks old is one that I will cherish for the rest of my life. The breeder put him in to my arms sleeping. Actually, he was snoring his little head off but that didn’t matter. All of a sudden, he opened his tiny black eyes, looked right into my soul and my heart grew a little bit bigger. I cried. I remembered all the love I had felt for Perry and all the pain of his leaving us. And the edges of that hole in my heart began to slowly knit together and heal.
Of course, nothing can prepare you for the arrival of a tiny 8 week old bundle of white fur, no bigger than your slipper, who takes over your heart and your home. Having a young puppy is similar to having a new baby in the house. The great thing is that they grow up quicker and become house trained in a matter of weeks (God willing) rather than years. The first two months of Mungo’s arrival are now a blessed blur of disturbed sleep, copious amounts of carpet cleaner, constant mud being hovered up and non-existent flower beds.
Being a Priest, naturally, I try to reflect theologically in everything I do, think, feel or buy. Having Mungo is no exception. I have had many sleepless nights with this ‘precious’ being to think about what the spiritual lessons are to be learned from owning a puppy, or indeed any pet, that captures you body, mind and soul. For me it begins simply with this. Dog is God spelt backwards.
It seems our furry friends can teach and show us all about our maker without saying a word. The language of love does not need words, it needs action and trust. So what exactly has my tiny white puppy taught me? That life is far too short. Especially the ones that have a maximum lifespan of 16 years. If I am blessed by a long life, I expect I will be owned by about 4 or 5 dogs over that time. That is a lot of expected heartache when it comes to saying goodbye, but the joy of saying hello for those few years are so worth it.
For me, life is empty and meaningless without the wagging tails and overwhelming love shown by my dogs on my return from ‘the great outdoors’. We have to learn to enjoy and love those who are precious to us in the moment of now, not in the moment of tomorrow or of yesterday.
Of course, dogs love you no matter what you do to them. Be it the dreaded bath, the wonderful walks, the tasty tummyclock time, the unavoidable trips to the vet or the abandonment of the kennels. Dogs love you and forgive you unconditionally before, during and after all of these moments in their lives as well as all the mundane ordinary times in between. You are theirs, they are yours. Dog is God spelt backwards.
Owning a dog is good for body and mind as well as the soul. Walking my dogs and seeing them run free with wild joyous abandon is one of the most important times in my day. It keeps me fit, gets me outside and allows my mind to wander in prayer, praise and thanksgiving for our maker.
Life is also about being naughty and, sometimes, getting away with it. But every time Mungo rushes in from the garden covered from head to tail in mud with half my bulbs hanging from his mouth, he knows he will get a telling off. He also knows that after a smacked nose, a bath and warm towel, I will forgive him and love him still. God is dog spelt backwards.
There is nothing on this earth that compares to the freely given unconditional love of my God and my dogs. I know I am loved as I am. To them, I don’t have to be important and I don’t have to be dressed in fine clothes for them to be with me. It doesn’t matter what car I drive, what house I live in, how much money I have or what church I attend.
My Dog, my God, loves me as I am without wanting anything in return but my love and my time. To understand God’s overwhelming loving forgiveness in action, adopting a puppy is a great beginning. You may just want to invest in shares in puppy pads and a puppy crate first though!