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Our Dogs Are Us

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I remember the day I picked up a bag of dog food at the local feed store. I paid with a check and as I reached for my wallet to provide some identification, the lady at the cash register said that she didn’t need any ID. To my puzzled look she said, “We never get bad checks from pet owners.”

Maybe they should include a line on, say, loan applications for a description of the household’s pets on the grounds that pet owners are good risks.

Not that we would want to draw too large a conclusion from a mere shard of evidence, and naturally there are many valid reasons why people do not have a pet, but if we might deduce good character from the presence of the family pet, what does its absence suggest …? Just saying.

We develop real relationships with our pets—and they with us. I had a dog once who did not like going to church. We tried to instill in him some appreciation for the honor and responsibility that went along with his status, First Dog, but on those occasions when the First Dog and the First Lady would walk me back to the church for an evening meeting, we would turn a certain corner and the mere sight of the building a block or so away was all it took for him to stop in his tracks and sit. Nothing would make him budge except moving in a different direction.

I raised the matter with a colleague who informed me that his dog loves going to his church, but I pointed out that his dog was a new convert and that with time his ardor would diminish.

And so it goes … one mystery to remain ever unsolved, but perhaps it is enough to be reminded by our pets that we really are connected to—or better, that we really are interconnected with—the wider world and the whole of creation. We do not stand apart from or over the creation and its creatures and systems: the health and well being of the parts is intimately connected to the health and well being of the whole.

And if we’re really fortunate, our dogs and cats and whatever else makes us better humans will nudge us in the right direction. In later days, a successor dog had a special way of reminding us that he was part of the family and expected to be treated accordingly. This did not include being left alone when his superiors would go someplace. He was happy enough to see us when we returned but the formality of the greeting having been dispensed with, he then expressed his displeasure with a protracted period of barking which could only be mollified with a piece of graham cracker (he has us well trained—or as the mistress of the house would say, he has me well trained).

May they so train all of us.

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