And this note is going to be about animal rescue. Forgive me for taking a roundabout route to it. I have still one more side street to take…
Several years ago, I heard a sermon in church on Christmas Eve that I’ll never forget. The idea given to me that night was a brand new one for me. Perhaps all of you who go regularly to church will think it’s no big deal. What the minister said was that the message God was sending to the earth through Jesus was so important that he (sorry, I keep forgetting to capitalize my aitches, so I’m giving up) wanted to be sure he had the widest possible audience, so he made Jesus a baby, since everyone loves babies. That did, and still does, make such sense to me. Even the hardest heart is softened by being in contact with a baby, or, if it’s not, it’s probably not ever going to be softened by anything.
Periodically, this sermon pops into my head, and not just at Christmas. It started a train of thought which has been sort of percolating and developing over the intervening years, and one day quite recently, another idea popped into my head. I realized that, for me, for my soul, dogs have functioned as living, breathing, real-time baby Jesuses. Dogs have brought goodness and light to me. They always have, but this past year, they brought it so fast and in such quantities that it was like an all-you-can-eat soul food buffet. For a little over a year, I’ve been on some kind of dog journey, and I want to write about it, and I want to start tonight, on this night I share with my father. For the record, it’s not just a dog journey. I love and rescue cats, too. But I’m going to write mostly about dogs, because they are what I know best, and they occupy so much of my mental space.
I’ve got to start somewhere, and it’s appropriate, on Christmas Eve, to begin with a dog I’ve had for only three weeks, a dog I named Grace. The way Grace and I became family is a fascinating story to those who love dogs, and I’ll tell it later, with all its nuts and bolts. But for now, all I want to do is to try to communicate the internal feeling I’ve had lately which allowed me to have Grace, the feeling that has come to me through dogs like God’s message came to people through the baby Jesus.
I live with a number of dogs–ten, including Grace. This is many more dogs than most people have. It’s many more dogs than I ever thought to have. In the not-too-distant past, I was a one dog person, with no plans to be anything but. I wouldn’t have been opposed to having more; I just never thought of it. Then I rescued two dogs within a short time of each other (although I was not thinking in terms of rescue yet), and so, for several years, I had three dogs. This was surprisingly do-able, I found, but again, I was not thinking about having more. A number of more or less accidental occurrences, including marriage to another dog owner, resulted in a dog family that was suddenly doubled–six. And that, too, was very do-able. Yet once more, it seemed to me that a larger dog family would be out of the question. I felt conspicuous enough with six, and as if I were playing with fire, in some way. And although I’ve had cats and dogs since before I could walk, it is with those six, the ‘six-pack’, that my dog journey began.
Maybe I’m wrong to feel that I’ve reached, at least in a certain way, the end of that journey. I imagine that the learning part of the journey, mastering the how-to manual for dog rescue, so to speak, will continue forever. But the feeling of, “I can do this, so I must do this”, I had when I saw Grace’s picture on Facebook was a fully-evolved, complete feeling, it seems to me. It was enough, and will continue to be enough, I think, for what I want to do. From the time of the six-pack, to the time of Grace, my doubts and fears have been falling by the wayside, sometimes slowly and sometimes faster. But when I saw Grace, I realized that, at some point, all of them had gone. I had no fear, no inner voices saying, “Are you crazy? Another dog? What will people think?” I had, at some point in the journey, internalized something from another sermon in another church–the idea that ‘responsibility’ means just that–response ability, the ability to respond. And that’s just what I’ve got, so it seems, when it comes to dogs.
So Grace, who was to be euthanized the morning after I saw her picture, is peacefully asleep on her thick blanket bed, about ten feet from where I sit writing this. The other nine are all asleep within a few feet of me, too. From my desk I can see the snow on the ground, and I know the temperature is in the twenties, but there’s a fire in the woodstove and it’s wonderfully warm and cozy here. And it’s so peaceful, and, somehow, so loving. My heart is filled with gratitude this Christmas Eve, for the dogs and for what I’ve learned from them. Merry Christmas to you, and thank you for reading this. It’s my plan to write about the dogs each day from now on, or to come as close as possible to that, and I’ll be very glad to have you along. And if you’d like to hear the amazing Koln bells, here’s a link: http://www.facebook.com/l.php?u=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.youtube.com%2Fwatch%3Fv%3DykaqexPzA90&h=8b13f