Saturday, February 05, 2005

The loyalty of a dog

I saw this Peanuts cartoon of Snoopy and Lucy – with Snoopy doing his loyal best to please Lucy, with all his doggy powers, even with her disdain! – and I was reminded of my dog Wyatt.Until Wyatt, I would have never believed a human could have such a connection with a dog. Many times, at just the slightest look or motion from me, he’d do exactly as I wished. He lived to please me: his life a lesson of loyalty!

Which is why, one day, I was so surprised when he seemed not to listen.

We would run through the woods: I’d jog the miles of Pennsylvania trails and logging roads, and he’d run beside me, or range slightly ahead or behind… always coming to heel at my command. So neat! I could be facing away from him, jogging, whistle once, and he’d run, catch up with me, and hit my hand, and then race in front, tail wagging! I wouldn’t even have to look at him to know he’d heed. For him it was a friendly game of tag: joyful obedience.

But this day, I decided to do a longer run, and split off the trail, running along a creek that cut through a mountain gorge. Beautiful scenery, a railroad path through hardwood trees and rushing water! I was caught up in the wonder and glory… Suddenly I realized that Wyatt wasn’t running behind me.

So, immediately I stopped and whistled. Nothing. Then I yelled, “Wyatt!” “Ho!” But still nothing. My voice echoed lonely on the mountain. No Wyatt, not even a distant bark.

This frightened me. Where was Wyatt? We were a couple miles from home now, and surrounded by a forest that stretched out for miles. Why wouldn’t he at least answer? Was he hurt? Or worse, chasing a deer? I had trained him not to do that! But what if a few whitetail deer had tempted him over the line and he was now far away… lost?

All these thoughts poured through my mind. I walked back, calling his name. “Wyatt!” Nothing. Only an empty echo. I grew sick at my stomach. Oh, why had I come this way? Why didn’t I keep a closer eye on him?

The minutes passed, and with each minute, my heart fell further. I breathed a quick prayer, and called again: “Wyatt!”

Suddenly, I heard a yelp. Wyatt ran out of the woods, wet and breathless. Panting. Hard. What was this? He was totally exhausted! Saliva dripping from his mouth, but his tail was wagging non-stop!

Relief surged through me. But then my fear turned to real anger. “Wyatt!” “Why didn’t you come?” “Why didn’t you answer?” I was having none of his tail-wagging nonsense. It was clear: he had disobeyed and risked harm. I grabbed his collar, shook him, scolded him and smacked him. Hard.

In my mind, his life was at risk. If he disobeyed like this in the future, someday he wouldn’t come back! So I was not easy on him.

I’ll never forget the look of confusion in his eyes when I disciplined him. He took it, but there was something else there: he was crushed, and not feeling guilty.

So after stern reprimand I then discerned that he wanted me to follow him. He ran, looked back at me, ran, and looked back… and I followed him. He crashed through the brush, over a ditch, and then picked up his prize, eyes beaming and tail wagging. What? What was this? A groundhog?

Yes! He had chased down a groundhog, killed it. He had carried it over rocks and hilly terrain, through a small creek… to me. He was bringing it to me, as a prize, this huge groundhog fully 30 percent his weight: He couldn’t answer my call because he was carrying that groundhog, running as quickly as he could through impossible terrain!

In his mind, he was not disobeying me; he was treating me and serving me. He had exhausted himself trying to do two tasks: come when I called, yet bring me a prize.

My eyes filled with tears: I knew I had been unjust. Wyatt was trying his best to serve me, to gain my applause… and I had hit him and scolded him instead. Oh!

I held out my arms and called him: “Good boy!” He leapt into my arms. I knelt down then, hugged him tightly, wet hair and saliva and all, and cried. “I’m sorry, Wyatt!” I kept saying over and over, “Good Wyatt! Good dog!” “I’m so sorry!” His entire body quivered with forgiveness and delight. He licked my face as if to say, “Yes, I forgive you!”

I picked up the groundhog then and did a warrior pose with it, held it up as Wyatt’s kill, and his eyes shone!

I hung it high in a tree and hugged Wyatt again. Then I took him down to the larger creek, let him drink, and washed him. I let him sport in the water for awhile to renew his strength, and then we ran home.

I’ll never forget that day.

I learned loyalty from my dog. I learned that justice must often decide between appearance and reality. I learned about myself, about life, and about higher relation with God.

For God never has to decide between appearance and reality. He is always just, ever wise and true: He sees perfectly, first glance. And, oh! If I would have the faith to serve Him – without judging His justice – as Wyatt had served me!

P.T. Forsyth says that the slowness of God is not the absence of God, but rather a form of His wise justice and compassion. George MacDonald comments that life is no series of chances with a few providences sprinkled between to keep up a justly failing belief, but one providence of God.

That is our Master. There is no shadow of turning in Him. His sight is true. His providence for us is perfect and whole, even to the details of this day. His calling is true vision.

What a lesson…

Wyatt lies now in a princely grave, near those same forest trees where he brought the groundhog to me, dead these four years from snakebite.

Wyatt! I bless your memory, my friend and companion! You taught me much about faithfulness…loyalty to my Master, too…

If the resurrection of Christ means anything for souls of animals, then I will see you again, my friend!



Anonymous said...

i have a dog too, a beautiful silky terrier named Scampy. He, too, personifies devotion and unswerving loyalty - i think it's a characteristic of ALL dogs. =)

Loy Mershimer said...

I agree! I think it is part of a dog's nature, to naturally respond this way. However, some dogs have been abused by humans, and lose their trust. Others gradually go wild inside...

But, mostly, it is of a dog's nature to be true, intelligent and vastly loyal.

And if you find one who brings all those elements, and then connects with!

Like I say, I wouldn't have believed it...


Sourdough George said...

I've got a lump in my throat, and my eyes are starting to leak. I'm a sucker for a good dog story. People who think animals have no personality or intelligence simply have no personality or intelligence. I could tell some great dog stories of my own, but this ain't my blog. Just wanted to say I really enjoyed this post.

Loy Mershimer said...


I didn't know you had a blog! That is so neat. You must post some of your dog stories on your blog, and then come over here and post the link to it in this thread.

Lurking beneath this dog story [and others] is the question: do animals have souls?

A girl asked me that in a class recently. I answered something along the line that yes, animals have souls but are not created in the image of God: only humans are created Imago Dei. Which means we have an added element of spirit, above soul.

Of course, humans have the capacity [as C.S. Lewis noted, and Kierkegaard] to live as less than spirit, or live on a plane where spirit is denied in daily life.

Likewise, we could say, animals have souls, but are also gifted with the freedom to live as LESS, to gradually go wild inside.

Lewis' distinction between Talking Beasts and Dumb Beasts is a good one, for Christian philosophy of soul.


ivan said...

I agree ur thinking.I would like the story exchange to the video.This dog's story suit for everyone.