July 12, 2009

Go ahead--treat me like a dog

I once had a dog named Jesse. He was a long-legged black lab, who loved the long walks we took along the oak-line trails of an old rancho not far from our house. He was a gentle and affectionate companion and I used to think there was nothing quite as graceful as the sight of him leaping through tall grass.

One day we were out early before the day broke and while I was studying a strange object on a hill, I realized too late that it wasn’t a plant with a white stripe down its center, but the tail of a skunk held straight up in warning. I yelled for Jesse to come, but my effort was in vain. He leaped after the creature, only to paw at the air mid-stride in an effort to spin away. When he landed, Jesse was blind and sneezing, having taken a hit of skunk spray to the face. It probably goes without saying, but he stunk so awfully that it hurt to stand next to him.

It was a bad day not to have a leash with me. Since Jesse couldn’t open his eyes, I had to lead him by the collar, both of us gagging each step of the way. I directed him to a pond and coaxed him into the water, where I gave him a good dunking. The drive back home was not fun and my thoughts were not charitable. I kept muttering, “That damn dog,” while he rubbed his face on the upholstery. Though I opened all the windows and hung my head outside, the smell was as insidious as a swarm of angry bees. The Jeep, as you might imagine, has never been the same since.

Today I laugh about the episode, proud of the fact that the next time we saw a skunk, Jesse obeyed my directive to stay. The memory resides beside others—like the time we scared a flock of vultures off a steer carcass and watched horrified when two stragglers crawled out of a hole in the steer’s brisket before following their kinfolk into the sky. Jesse looked at me as if to ask: “Did you see that?” and I told him I had.

A few years later, he was diagnosed with a tumor in his hip. Lori and I were beside ourselves and unprepared to say goodbye, so we opted for surgery and chemo treatments. For the next year, Jesse was as active and enthusiastic as he’d always been—except now as a three-legged dog—and we took joy in his apparent recovery. Once again he could leap unaided into the Jeep. He even found a way to lift his remaining hind leg to pee.

Eventually, however, the cancer returned in a more virulent form. Lori and I told ourselves that we would know it was time to let him go when he couldn’t enjoy his food or walks anymore. That day came all too soon. During his last week, he took to wandering off—to die, we speculated. At night I slept with him, listening to him whimper and wondering if the pain medication was doing him any good. I prayed that he would be spared, but he was clearly in pain. Rather than let him suffer, we took that difficult drive to the vet, hoping we were doing the right thing.

Why am I telling you this?

This story isn’t unusual, rather something we all relate to. The fact is people are capable—and even susceptible—of developing great love and compassion for the fellow creatures sojourning with us here on earth. If so, why do we expect anything less from our Heavenly Father? It disturbs me, when we use guilt as a sledge to pound out conformity in others. At some point we stop saying, “bad dog,” to our goofy canine friends and overlook their indiscretions born out of exuberance. It horrifies me when we warn children that God will punish them for their disobedience. If these acts are appropriate, God is not as great as we assume. Children, like puppies, are better motivated by love than constant badgering and warnings of impending doom.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"Children, like puppies, are better motivated by love than constant badgering and warnings of impending doom."

Yes. I would add, children are better motivated by love than punishments. They'll expend huge energy (yours and theirs) avoiding punishment and not doing what you hope.

"Yet our teacher had couched that leap in terms of truth and that wasn't right...."

Yes. In your case, it's explicit. In most cases it's implicit -- but no less wrong, wrong and immoral.