Our family has a lot of pets. In my household we have three dogs, and as I write this, I still find it hard to believe we have three dogs! My mom has four cats and two dogs, and my dad has two cats and a dog, so I guess you can see where I get it from. My wife is allergic to cats, but she grew up having at least one dog in their house. I guess you could say we are animal lovers, and we have a soft spot for pets! At least we are in good company. God loves animals too, and there are many verses to this effect in scripture. Remember Noah’s ark?
Every pet that I have encountered has a unique personality. I cannot speak for all pet lovers, but for me, their unconditional love and innocence is refreshing. Even their mischief teaches us something. Have you ever had your dog chew up your favorite shoes? I have. On multiple occasions. In my younger days I would shove the remnants of the shoe in his face and yell, “bad dog!” You have probably had a similar experience at some point – and hopefully you have a better temperament than me. But over time I came to realize something. My dog was teaching me that I was placing too much value my possessions. Think about it. Yes, it’s annoying to have to buy a new pair of shoes. And yes, those may have been the perfect shoes. But they are not truly important. As noted in scripture, “Ask the animals, and they will teach you.” (Job 12:7-10) When my dog chewed up my laser tape measure last week, I simply cleaned up the mess, and I blamed myself for leaving it where he could get to it. I did not say a word to my dog, but I did reflect on my predicament and humbly cleaned up the mess.
The impact our dogs have had on our lives is immeasurable. Seven years ago, my wife and I were discussing the possibility of starting our (human) family. I had some hesitation about the timing, as I’m sure many men do. We had just picked up the usual birth control pills from the pharmacy and we set the bag from the pharmacy down on the kitchen counter as soon as we arrived home. When we came back into the kitchen, we discovered that our only dog at the time, Russ, had eaten or otherwise ruined the entire months’ worth of the medication. We were expecting our son a short time later. Coincidence? I think not. Clearly God was at work and gave us a not-so-subtle nudge through the actions of our dog. Plus, there is the bonus of a funny story to go with it!
Let me tell you the shortened story of how we became a family with three dogs. My wife and I were newlyweds and, like many couples do, we decided a dog was a good way to start expanding the family. We found a breeder for Labrador retrievers, and when we went to visit the newborn puppies, this chocolate lab pup looked me straight in the eye and rubbed my chest with his paw when I picked him up. I knew he was the right one instantly, and we named him Russ. When Russ was almost one year old, another dog came into our lives. Daisy is a lab mix and has black fur, and she was obviously dumped. She had mites and was severely malnourished, and the first time we took her to the vet, we found out she had a major heart murmur. Two heart operations later, she was irrevocably part of our family, and we consider ourselves blessed to have her. Charlie is our newest addition to the family. He belonged to our wonderful neighbor, who was forced to move to a new home because her life partner passed away. She could not bring Charlie to the new home because of community size restrictions, so we brought him in under the pretense of ‘fostering’. He is a great dog and mixes well with our family. The notion of fostering fell by the wayside quickly!
Sometimes God’s intentions are revealed to us gradually, and not all at once. This is the case with our newly adopted dog, Charlie. All we knew initially was that bringing Charlie into our home was the right thing to do. We followed our hearts and welcomed Charlie, and after adopting him we took him to our vet for a routine screening and vaccination update. When I spoke with my vet, she had emotion in her voice, and told me that all his lymph nodes were enlarged. What the previous vet thought was a thyroid condition, was likely lymphoma – a non-curable cancer that is common in dogs. The blood and tissue sample taken confirmed this diagnosis. We also found out that he is around 12 years old according to his paperwork. You would not know any of this by spending time with Charlie – he loves going on walks and plays so well with our small kids, loving the attention and excitement. With limited time left with Charlie in our lives, we made it our mission to ensure he is loved and spoiled beyond his wildest dreams!
As you can see, two of our three dogs were unplanned. At least from our vantage point. I believe that God brought us Daisy because she needed a home – and she would almost certainly not be alive today had we not taken her in. She is almost 7 years old, and our vet is still amazed she lived past the age of 4. Similarly, Charlie did not come to us by accident. I feel very strongly that Charlie was supposed to come to our home for his final days to reduce the burden on my neighbor, who has already lost so much in a very short amount of time. There are other factors in her story that add to the trauma, but consider this: within a six-month span, she lost her parents to Covid-19, her life partner to cancer, her other dog (a German shepherd named Abbi, who died two weeks before moving day), and the home she had lived in for around 25 years. The passing of another dog would have just been too much for her on her own. God knew that we were up for the task, and that Charlie could live his final days with a large active family who is honored to have him and confront the emotional and financial burdens from a position of strength. Our former neighbor has also become and will remain an extension of our family. We are simply honored to play a role in God’s work, and it has been an experience we will cherish forever.
God appointed us to do His task with Charlie, and as I was about to post this writing a week ago, something told me to wait and that there is more that God wanted to contribute. With a humble heart, I am deeply honored to share what God did for us. Charlie’s condition worsened on Tuesday, and by Wednesday he quit eating. He went from being happy and following us around the house to not wanting to get up at all. I did not think he would make it through Thursday night, so I prayed that God help us get through this and to take Charlie if it was His will. He made it through the night, but he was deteriorating quickly. Friday, I made another call to my vet, and she confirmed that it was Charlie’s time. I took him to the vet, and I was able to arrange for his previous owner, our dear friend, to be there with him also. The vet gave him sedation to help him relax, and his head was in my friend’s arms as I was petting his back. After about ten minutes, he took a deep breath and then quit breathing. God took him home before the euthanasia was administered. My vet said this is rare, and she had only seen it one other time in her entire career. It’s never easy to lose a family member, but I believe God did this for us to let us know without a trace of doubt that it was his time. For God, this is perhaps a small gesture to let us know he is listening and hears our prayers – but I will never forget the kindness that God showed to me and my friend in those final moments of Charlie’s life. My friend came over that evening, and we had a delightful time celebrating the lives of the loved ones she recently lost and deepening our friendship. It was a tough day to be sure, but God made it easier just as I had asked.
I have heard many people say that they love talking to their dog (or cat, or other pet) because the dog does not talk back or get mad. Let’s be honest – I also value these virtues. Sometimes people give us a hard time. Pets are a captive audience, and they are great at listening (most of the time). Our Father in Heaven is listening too, but He does not chew up our shoes! And He listens without exception. God is waiting for us all to acknowledge Him in our everyday thoughts and actions, and if we endeavor to do this, he will be excited and reward us. Our dogs are excited when we come home, waiting patiently, and bursting with excitement when we walk through the door. Likewise, pet owners are excited to see their furry family members arrive home, whether they ran away or were at the kennel for the weekend. God will be excited when we walk through His door and come home too!