death of dog · dogs · loss of a pet · Spirituality

A Good Dog

Two weeks ago, our sweet, loving, playful, and smart granddog Molly succumbed to cancer after a three-month illness. Adam and Jess, along with Molly’s extended family and many friends, have grieved deeply for her.

When so many are struggling with life and death during this terrible Covid time, the passing of a chocolate Lab may not seem important. Yet anyone who has loved a pet knows the pain and emptiness of missing that warm presence next to us on the couch. Especially after the last year, when so many of our social norms have been cut out, we have needed the unconditional love that we receive from our dogs, cats, and other pets more than ever.

I’ve wondered this week why we give ourselves over so completely to the animals in our lives when the pain is so intense when we lose them. Something must be in our DNA that causes our hearts to melt over a stumbling puppy or mewing kitten. Once we have let our guard down and allowed them in, both physically and figuratively, we are captive.

One of the reasons we love our pets so much is that they don’t filter their emotions like we humans. The pets I have loved have taught me about being present with my feelings and about letting those around me know how much I love them.

No one else in my life will greet me with the same excitement that Molly did when seeing me. If I came over to their house she would gallop around and grab a toy for me to throw. She often barked for pure happiness, like the first time I took her to the beach. I wish I had more in my life that makes me want to throw back my head and holler for joy.

Molly taught me about enjoying the moment. When she and I went for a walk, she would look back about halfway through with a look that said, “Aren’t we having fun?” She reminded me of the sheer pleasure of being outside in the sunshine, of smelling the trees and grass, and of delighting in the movement of my body.

Molly’s “aren’t we having fun?” face

Molly also taught me that it’s okay to feel sad. Although she was usually a happy dog, she did not filter her gloom when she had to be away from Adam and Jess for long. As she got older, especially in these last months when she had not felt well, she did not like any separation from them. The last time I was with her alone in their new house, she laid down on her bed, listless and depressed. Once Adam and Jess arrived, she was content.

How often do I make excuses for my times of unhappiness, feeling guilty instead of just accepting that sometimes life stinks? Life for Molly was black and white — with Adam and Jess she was happy, without them she was not.

This contentment that Molly felt when she was with Adam and Jess reminds me that I need to allow myself to relax more often in the presence of my Father and allow Him to take care of me. As long as she was with one of them, she felt safe and at home. She didn’t worry about what was going to happen next because she totally trusted that they would take care of her. I need more of that in my life.

For now, Adam and Jess must live in a life that goes on, in the words of poet Wendell Berry, “new-shaped by loss”. At the end of the well-known chapter on love, I Corinthians 13, are these words: “These three remain, faith, hope and love. And the greatest of these is love.”  Molly was pure love, and that love remains as tangible as her soft fur against my cheek.

dogs · Spirituality

Doing What I Can

I want to talk about poop — specifically dog poop.

Normally this is not an issue in my life. When our granddog Molly comes to visit, we always take the little green poop bag with us when we go for a walk, just in case she decides to grace a neighbor’s yard. But out here in the country, folks don’t worry a lot about where animals relieve themselves.

A few years ago, our small town of Calhoun built a wonderful asphalt walking trail at the local park. With the pandemic keeping so many of us isolated, it has been a very popular place. I’m there several times a week. Meeting up with friends to run or walk has been a lifeline for me during this Covid time.

With our granddog Molly at the Rec a few summers ago.

I love seeing all the dogs out having a good time. We even have a Dog Bark Park where they can run around unleashed. Unlike in more urban areas, many dog walkers here don’t bother with the little green bags for picking up their dog’s poop. I don’t have a problem with that. There are lots of woodsy, grassy areas where the dogs can do their business.

But on more than one occasion, I’ve come across poop right in the middle of the walkway! Not even on the side of the path, but right in the center where everyone is walking, running, pushing strollers, or riding bikes.

What kind of person does this?

So — this bothers me. And yes, it probably bothers me too much. I have a bad habit of obsessing over little things. I ruminate on them, think about them way too much and get my proverbial “panties in a wad.” I’ve thought about complaining to the Rec Board, asking for signs to be posted to pick up after your dog, even wondering if we could set up a hidden camera to catch the ill-mannered owner. After all, it’s a matter of public health and safety!

On a visit to see my cousin Garner at Kure Beach, North Carolina, last August, we went to a local brewery that had a dog-friendly patio and frisbee golf area. I snapped a picture of this sign. I wish I could send it to the offending dog owner at the Rec!

Lately I’ve thought about the person I am when no one is watching. Who am I deep down when I’m not trying to make a good impression or be politically correct? Am I the same when alone or in my home as I am when I’m out in public?

The answer sadly is no, but I keep working toward the goal. Like Paul in the Bible, I’m not there yet. (Philippians 3:13-15)

I want to be authentic and real no matter who I am around. I don’t need to go around spilling my guts to everyone I see, but I can make the effort admit my life is not perfect. I don’t trust people who are too together. Everyone struggles on some level.

For all I know, the discourteous dog owner has some sort of handicap, or is old and feeble and can’t get the dog to go in the grass. Maybe they really have grown up so sheltered that no one has ever told them about proper dog bathroom etiquette. Or maybe they are so self-centered that they truly don’t care.

Whatever the reason, it is out of my control. This past year I’ve felt out of control often.  I can’t make someone wear a mask or keep away from crowds. I can’t heal the huge rifts in our country or help those struggling to keep a job when they have to stay home with their children.

But I can try to make a difference in my choices and actions. One of my favorite quotes is this:

I am only one,

But still I am one.

I cannot do everything,

But still I can do something;

And because I cannot do everything,

I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.

Edwin Osgood Grover

The other afternoon I was out running by myself on the trail and came across the offending poop right in the middle of the walkway. It must have been there for a day or so because it was dried out. I paused for a moment, then made a decision. I kicked the poop into the grass with the side of my shoe. A few paces down the trail I saw another batch and kicked it to the side also.

As I continued with my run, I felt at peace. At the very least my small action kept an older person from slipping and falling. But more importantly, instead of fuming, I did something and let go of my anger at the inconsiderate dog owner. Every little bit of anger I release puts me in a better place in my soul and allows the peace of Christ to come in and take charge.