Darn Dog. We never intended for Dudley, our sandy-haired terrier mutt, to wheedle his way so deeply into our hearts, but he did. He would look at us with those big brown eyes, snuggle up and say “love me.” And we did. And if we stopped, he would let us know that our efforts were a good start, but hardly a completed job. When one of our family came home after a hard day at work or school, he was always there, ready to lift our spirits. We are new to Johnston and there have been many days when it seemed like Dudley was our family’s best friend. But then one day Dudley seemed down. He went the vet the next day, was fighting for his little life the third day, and on the fourth I was holding him with tears streaming down my cheeks as his life slipped away.
Just that quick. And we were left holding a bag full of grief. Sometimes I feel guilty for caring so much about a dog. After all, about 21,000 people die every day from hunger and hunger related causes. Shouldn’t I grieve for them with even more depth than I do for my darn dog? Yet I didn’t live with any of those 21,000 people, at least not in the same house. And I did live, quite intimately in fact, with my dog.
Sometimes as a pastor I’m asked if our beloved pets go to heaven…if they will truly meet us at the “rainbow bridge” where they will join us as we meet Jesus and our other relatives. I surely pray that is true. And I think there is good hope for it. After all, the Bible does say that God so loved the world that he gave us his son Jesus. The original language there actually says that God so loves the cosmos. God loves the whole world: people, plants, animals, and yes, even our little Dudley. Could there be an Easter for Dudley? Could he be part of the “new heavens and earth” that the Bible promises?
In the end I suppose we will all have to wait to find out for sure. But I’m so glad that God cares about my and everyone’s hurt, even if it is for a darn dog. Nothing is too big or too small for God to help us through. And I’m glad for friends, “churchy” and “non-churchy,” who come alongside and say, “I’m sorry about your dog” and give me a hug. It doesn’t fill the hole, but it does remind me that I’m not on this journey alone. And for that I’m thankful.
Bill O’Connell is the lead pastor at St. Paul Presbyterian Church in Johnston, www.stpaul-johnston.com.