I recently said good-bye to my 10-year-old Golden Retriever, Hudson.
He passed away on August 20th, hours before my new husband and I moved to Michigan to begin our life together.
There are many aspect to Hudson’s death that I have contemplated over the last few days. My history with dogs, especially Hudson, made his death that much more poignant. Anyone who knows me, my upbringing, or my history with dogs, understands as much.
Anyone who knew Hudson understands the very special way he interacted with the world, and anyone who knew the two of us together understand that he was more than a fuzzy head that played ball and got ear scratches. His life and death were unique. God spoke to me and worked in my life in many ways by having that dog. I am blessed to have had him in my life.
While I would love to delve into the multitude of topics that his passing has brought up, I only have time for one.
I remember a few years ago at college, a Catholic girl I was speaking with said something along the lines of “ugh. I can’t stand animals.”
Taken aback, I responded sarcastically, “there’s something seriously wrong with you if you don’t like animals!”
“They’re not as important as people,” she replied matter-of-factly, and walked away.
I was stunned for the rest of the day. It’s one thing to get bitten by a dog and, therefore, not like dogs. Or fall off of a horse and not like horses. But to blatantly, across the board, dislike animals? I couldn’t wrap my head around it. Especially coming from such an animal-loving home.
My mother always taught us that there are plenty of ways to be pro-life. You don’t have to have 13 kids and plaster Crisis Pregnancy Center bumper stickers on your car to be pro-life. To be pro-life, we in the Smith household understood, meant to love and nurture all life. That, yes, people are and always will be more important than animals, but in practicing proper dominion over animals, showing them proper care, we are caring for a life that God deemed fit to make. In that sense, by loving and serving animals, we were being very pro-life.
If God decided that it was a life worth making, then it was definitely a life worth caring for. To despise animals, then, seems to slap God in the face. To tell Him “that aspect of creation isn’t worth it.” Who are we to say that to the God of the universe?
My understanding of dominion lead me to love animals and to strive to have them in my life in any way possible. Then Hudson entered my life, and my understanding of animal love changed.
I’m sure everyone has had that “one special bond” with an animal, and Hudson was that animal. His undying love and faithfulness, I decided, couldn’t possibly be simply a fluke of genetics. You couldn’t just breed a dog to love the way Hudson loved.
Whether I am right or not is another question, but one thing is certain, I grew to know God better because of my relationship with Hudson. He reflected God’s love in a way no one had before and I began to think about creation in a new way.
All of creation reflects God in some way, shape, or form. Just as hand-woven baskets reflect the weaver, or paintings reflect aspects of the painter, so too does creation reflect the God and Lord we worship. Flowers reflect Hislove of beauty, gentleness, and colorfulness. Trees reflect His grace and strength. People are made in His image – reflecting His relationship, love, logic, morality, creativity, complexity.
And then there are animals. Animals – sentient creatures that cannot talk, communicate, or reason as people do. Sentient creatures that are not on par with God’s magnum opus of mankind. Animals reflect that sentient part of God that is simple.
People always talk about the love of a dog as “special.” “Man’s best friend” didn’t earn his title by mistake. People know there is something different in the bond of a man with his dog. I don’t believe that is an accident.
If, as the Church teaches, every man – regardless of religious background, formation, or faith – has a desire for God, then there is in some part of us the ability to see God. Even if we are capable of only seeing a reflection of God, we still have a “God compass” that searches and points to Him so that when we see something beautiful or have a meaningful relationship with someone or something, a part of us can say “that was not for nothing; that comes from something greater.”
I believe God gave humanity dogs for just that purpose.
In a unique way, dogs reflect the way God loves us. Dogs always love us – they don’t care what mood we’re in, what we’re wearing, how tired we are, how successful we were at class or at work. Just as God delights in loving us, in giving us His Sacred Heart, so too dogs delight in showing us affection and giving us their hearts. People talk about the unconditional love of a dog – where else did they learn it, but by having such open and unconditional love placed in their hearts by God?
Men are not always open to letting God love them, but they are open to allowing dogs to love them. St. Thomas Aquinas and Peter Kreeft have both argued that angels come to us, not only in human form, but in animal form too. If this is so, then I believe they must come as dogs most often. If angels are messengers of the Lord, what better way to communicate God’s love for us than in the warm, brown eyes of a dog?
Dogs never care how long you’re gone. They’re just glad that you’re back. So too, God doesn’t care how long we’re gone from Him, how long we stay outside of His love. He simply delights in our homecoming.
A dog doesn’t sit at the door and ask “what took so long??” He simply wiggles and cries and licks and sheds and climbs all over you because it’s just the best thing in the world that you’re back. So too God rejoices in our homecoming – it’s simply the best thing in the world that we’re back in His love.
And, this love of God’s is so great, that He will go to any extent to be with His people – even sacrifice His only Son, if only to be with His people.
How often do dogs do the same? All they ever want is to be with their people. They’ll wait by the door, in the car, in the lawn, patiently just for you to come home. Sometimes they can’t wait to see their people and they sacrifice themselves for it – running into streets, jumping in to frozen ponds, or bolting through fences because they don’t care what the risk is – they just have to be with their people.
There are plenty of reasons why people love having dogs in their lives. But something that is so universally loved, so universally special, must reflect something greater. The loyalty and love in a dog are remarkable because they come from the one being who is wholly loyal, wholly loving. Dogs were given the task of making God’s love of mankind known every day, and they do a fantastic job of it.
So, yes, animals are not as important as people. But any creature that can so perfectly demonstrate God’s undying love for us and direct us back to the divine deserves all the love mankind can spare.