Who is Harder to Mourn: Dogs or Humans?

Jayme Stayer, SJ over at The Jesuit Post, recently lost his beloved Basset Hound, Tristan Xavier. The pain, I assume was twice as bad as when he had to choose between his dog and joining the Jesuits. I can remember a friend described a conversation he had with the members of his religious community when they discussed the possibility of getting a dog.

Priest 1: “Hey, we should get a dog!”
Priest 2: “Not just ‘No” but “Hell, no!'”
Priest 1: “What? Why not?”
Priest 2: “Because we all say that we’ll take care of the dog and nobody will and then one day we’ll look in the corner and say ‘OMG! The dog died!’ That’s why!”

True enough and Jayme ponders whether religious communities could have pets considering their mobility every few years. But as you know, I have a deep fondness for my own Chihuahua, Haze Hayes, and recently went through a tough time where he very nearly did need to be “put down” because of two major infections that antibiotics didn’t seem to be able to kick. In the end, Haze bounced back mightily with the help of the fine folks at the Blue Cross Animal Shelter, who I will be nominating for sainthood one day. It came at great personal expense to my wife and me to have the dog go through surgery. But we indeed are glad we did so, even if it means we are broke and that we’ve discovered the evils of our Pet Insurance Company who did not deliver on their promises.

I too, was very grateful for my work colleagues. They covered things for me in my absence and I’m sure that the urgency of a dog’s care, for some, is less a priority than saying financially solvent. My dog is still a young Chihuahua, so we made the effort. One of our vets said that many people would not have made the effort that we did. That many consider a dog more utilitarian, fine to own, but not the equivalent of a relationship. Simply put, it would be cheaper (much) to get another dog than to have a surgical procedure performed on a pet. One vet noted:

“That’s indeed true. But the new dog won’t be THAT dog. The one you have a relationship with and that you have raised all these years.”

And indeed that was the deciding factor for me. Difficult though it was, my dog lives and I pray he will live for a long time post-surgery. Call me crazy, but I love the dog and when the dog finally died, I know it will be a hard time for Marion and me. Jayme points out the difficulties in mourning a beloved pet.

The beloved, if ill-defined, place of a dog in our affections makes the problem of mourning for a dog complicated. It is easier to expect sympathy from others when we are grieving a friend or relative. But most people avoid the melodrama of announcing to acquaintances that their dog has died. John Homan, in his book What’s a Dog For?, notes: “Caring for a dog at the end of its life and grieving after it’s gone is in some ways more complicated than grieving for a person, because the question of what a dog is is far from settled.” I would press Homan’s point further. It’s not just a problem of essence (what a dog is) or function (what a dog is for). It’s a question of relationality: what our relationship with a dog means. The problem of mourning for a dog is bound up with the problem of believing that we love a dog. And love can mean lots of different things. The emotionally traumatized may find that it is a dog’s love that brings them back to life; the relationship that epileptics or the blind have with their dogs enables them not merely to survive but to flourish. Nevertheless, while dogs might offer us practical skills as well as something resembling unconditional love (they will play with us even if we’re ugly, insensitive, or sarcastic), dogs never challenge us when we’re being stubborn or petty.

There is no risk in loving a dog. And so what it means to love a dog is necessarily limited. There is something pathetic about Leona Helmsley—wealthy, tyrannical—clutching her dog and grinning at the camera. What does her love for a dog mean when she was so monstrous to the humans around her? It’s generally clear what we mean when we say that we love our parents or friends, because that love participates in, and derives from, divine love. It’s also clear what we mean when we say that we love nature, a movie, a book, or a sport, because that love is reverence for divine creation or the human genius that is its reflection. But when we say we love a dog, we’re not referring to a point that exists on a continuum somewhere between human-love and object-love. We seem to be referring to some other category altogether.

True enough, with one glaring exception in my opinion. There is risk in loving a dog, (or anyone else for that matter) and the risk is this. That the receiver of your love may in fact, one day no longer be with you. We all die, eventually. We don’t like much to focus on that, but we do. Death is indeed, is sad for us, but it is also a part of life. The love shared by those in life is never killed by death, but rather it is transformed into what is everlasting. I believe that is true for the love we share with creatures who are not human as well, of course, as those we share with our family, friends and colleagues from whom we risk, not receiving the response of love we get unconditionally from our pets and ultimately from God.

In tribute to “Tristan Xavier Stayer—the dumpiest, doofiest, dim-wittedest, and dearest basset hound that there ever was” I will share his dulcet tones, now silenced.

And I pray that when Jayme and his family meet the end of this life’s journey, they will find themselves led into God’s Kingdom by a bounding, jowl dripping, dear basset hound, who will be one of the many reasons that evidences that their reward in heaven awaits.

Even the Dogs Eat the Scraps

There’s a reference to dogs in today’s gospel and I will take full advantage of that to talk about my dog!

Most people believe that the reference to dogs in the gospel of Matthew is a negative one. Jesus says to a Caananite women who asks his assistance “It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.”

Ouch. Oh no he didn’t just call her a dog?

Well..wait a minute. My dog waits eagerly by my dinner table in anticipation that I might throw him a piece of meat. He never fails to do so. ANd he trusts that I will give him something. It’s a learned behavior and I know…I shouldn’t feed him from the table and I usually don’t. I take a piece of meat and place it aside and then put it in his dish when I am done with my meal. If he’s patient and certain that I am a good and gracious friend, he is secure in knowing that he will get a reward.

And perhaps that is also true for us.

How often are we unlike the Cannanite women and we have no faith that God will take care of us? How often do we fall into hopeless desolation and think there is no way out of situations? How often do we think we know better than God what is best for us? And we then fail to see good things when we can’t see beyond our own misery.

God calls us to be faithful. To look for some sign of consolation that surely appears if we but look carefully for it.

For even the dogs know that at the dinner table there may be a scrap or two for them and they are so grateful for even that much and eagerly await even that small morsel.

The Canaanite woman teaches us to be persistent in knowing that if we ask God enough, enough will be provided. Perhaps that is not what we think we want, but it will always be what we need.

And sometimes for me, the warmth of a loyal and loving dog is more than enough for me to see all that God has offered me.

Ripley the Dog RIP

My buddy Ripley had to be put down this week while I was away. She had been failing for some time. Ripley, was Fr. Jack’s Olde English Sheepdog here at the parish and I loved her. She was a 2 year old rescue dog from Indianapolis and she came with Quigley who left us last year. She lived to a very old age of 13, which for big dogs is very, very old.

Fr. Jack is in Hawaii and I imagine he is very sad along with Fr. Pat who was one of Ripley’s favorites.

For myself, I grew closer to Ripley who’d come by my office and visit, knowing she was always welcome. Some days she’d just lay down on my floor and snooze until I’d get up to leave. Sr. Jeremy had her in her later years as a constant companion and our parish office manager, Joanne would always find her laying in her doorway.

Here’s one of my favorite moments with Ripley from our 50 Day giveaway.

I believe that there are dogs in heaven, after all, what would heaven be without them (or any pets?)? And by that, I mean that the unconditional love that our pets have shown us (dogs especially) will be even more present to us in heaven. Once again, we’ll feel the love that these creatures of God have shown us and it will be a great communion of that love in the presence of God.

While sad (I cried all the way home from Long Island and when I passed Ripley’s yard this morning),I am also filled with gratitude. Fr. Jack rescued Ripley, as I did with my dog Haze and as he said, she in turn has rescued us. Ripley, now freed from her pain is in peace. I will miss her and she will always have a special place in my heart.

Now I’m off to play with Haze the Dog.

When A Pet Dies

Quigley, one of our parish’s two Old English Sheepdogs went over the Rainbow Bridge to be with God yesterday. It’s never easy. Fr Jack, our pastor, has been a bit sad these past days. Here’s Quigley in our 50 day video feature:

I truly believe that there are are animals in heaven, so may Quigley run and jump and chase squirrels with glee today.

A Dog Never Leaves His Master

A Terrier Mix did the unbelievable this week. After being caught in the Twister and missing for weeks, the dog dragged his two broken front paws all the way home. Telegraph has details:

Dogs have ways of teaching us things. How far do we go to reconnect with our master? I know that there have been times that I’ve avoided confession or prayer. There are times I avoid the homeless or those that need me. When I’ve gotten hurt I’ve focused on myself and not about how I might find those who love and support me.

But true joy lies with the master. It’s why my dog wags not merely his tail but his whole body when I come home. He knows the value of reconnecting and his joy comes from seeing the one who he knows will always love him. Marion and I saved him from a shelter and I think his gratitude runs deep. And as I write this he sits with me on my sofa with his nose inches away from my typing fingers, hoping for a scratch now and again.

Dogs realize that we are more than enough for them. But do we have the same feeling about our master? God is really more than enough for us, but can we really trust and rest in that fact. Or do our restless hearts seek more than God? It is in that restless separation that we are caught in the twister. We toss and turn with the wind and we get hurt. Even with all of that we don’t think about dragging our broken selves back to the one who can heal us, forgive us and make us whole again.

Haze, my dog, has just started licking my face now. He truly can’t get enough of me. Today, just for a moment, remember that God can’t get enough of us either. So if it’s been awhile, why not drag your brokenness to church for a Saturday confession or an anticipated mass? It is there that you will be at peace once again and come into the presence of the master, the one who can’t ever get enough of us.

I’m heading out now, to play with my dog.

Day 6: 50 Day Lenten Giveaway: The Doggie Mousepad

As you all know, all too well, I love dogs. When you tell people that you love dogs they tend to give you dog-like stuff. I have photo frames and figurines and a whole load of dog accouterments.

We’re a dog friendly workplace, Ripley and Quigley are Fr. Jack’s Old English Sheepdogs. Sr. Jeremy loves these dogs and Quigley never goes anywhere without her. So I thought this would be an appropriate gift for another dog lover.

I know while I’m working I like to be reminded of my dog and how much he loves me. So I hope that Sr. Jeremy can be reminded of how much we love her and how much love she had given to both her four and two legged friends.

For Anyone Who’s Lost a Pet

This was brave of Snoopy’s best friend.

Pets give us so much of themselves. I was asking Fr. Jack about whether he had dogs before his Old English Sheepdogs (Ripley and Quigley) the other day and you could see the sadness wash over him as he spoke of Duffy and Ryan, his old Golden Retrievers. My friend Jenene had to put her cat, Mickey, down a few weeks back and I could feel her grief on the phone.

We prayed the rainbow bridge prayer for those animals who have gone before us at our St. Francis day celebration and those who have experienced the loss of a pet all had those knowing looks.

I most likely won’t have this experience anytime soon, as Chihuahuas live to a pretty old age. But when I do I know it will be crushing for me. Haze has become a trusted companion, never leaving my side when I am home, except to escape for some peaceful solitude in his crate. A good friend who knows that he too, needs his space sometimes.

Some theologians posit that there are no animals in heaven. A dastardly thought, to be sure. For if these animals brought us joy, than God is sure to make all things once again new.

Today rejoice in the newness of God’s creation. Pray for those who are union with God and are united to us in prayer.

And if you have a pet, go on a long walk and frolic in the sun. For each day is gift and the love received, unconditional.


Some Can’t Even Teach Young Dogs Old Tricks…

Warning for some language here–but this is hysterical and makes me appreciate my mostly obedient dog even more:

Let us rejoice in the silliness that is our lives–that things don’t always work out the way we hope and yet, we can laugh at ourselves anyway. For students, this week as they finish finals, may they realize that even if their results are not what they most hope for, it is not the end of the world and that so many more important things will lie ahead regardless.

If a Dog is Too Hard to Love…

They say that when you look at how a culture treats its animals, you can make a direct correlation to how it treats vulnerable people as well.

Jarrad Venegas, who was our crackerjack office manager at BustedHalo® pointed me towards this video that is the epitome of that remark. Take a quick look and I dare you not to be moved by this.

Everyone was all too ready to give up on this dog, who was simply scared. Once she was able to see that someone else simply would love and care for her, could she then relax and stop “acting out” of her own fear.

But everyone was too quick to dispose of Edie. She was an “impossible” dog. “Better to put her down” was the conventional wisdom.

How often do we say that about other situations? Do we look at the homeless with their matted hair and their unkempt look as “disposable people?” Can we pull them into our arms for a hug? Or is that too much for us?

How about the unborn or the mother who is too scared to have her own child? Often everyone says that it’ll be too hard for the mother to care for the child. And they might very well be right. But how can we change that situation? What responsibility might we bear? How might we make that child no longer “easily disposable” but rather, loved and cared for?

How about the elderly? When they can no longer contribute to the world of work are we apt to simply forget about them? When they struggle with losing their own independence, are we able to be there to comfort them and help them gain confidence in their new situation? When they lose control of their faculties and even their bladders and bowels can we save them from embarrassment and pamper them as we would a newborn, or do we just let them stay dirty and scared and in need of someone who can care for their immediate needs?

And I’m not above any of this. I know I don’t always reach out to others when I could. It might be because I’m too lazy, or that I know the effort might be exhausting, or quite frankly that I just don’t care enough.

Even my own dog, Haze (pictured, right) who I pamper and treat like a king most of the time, can easily exhaust me when his needs try my patience with constant barking or when he feels too anxious and “acts out”–most often on my couch.

At times, it seems I give up much too easily on people who simply need just a bit of what we all need in order to feel secure.

Is it too hard to love this deeply? Perhaps Jesus who asks us to love without limit would say that we humans have a long way to go to achieve the Kingdom here on earth.

Because after all, some of us can’t even do it for a dog.

Believe in the Power of the Doggie Jersey

I’m not much into superstitions but…

The New York Jets won their playoff game over the Bengals yesterday, and more importantly, my dog haze was wearing his Jets jersey. Every time he wears it –the Jets win. Believe in the power of the doggy jersey!

I wanted to get him the number “1/2” but they don’t do fractions.

While we’re discussing Dogs and sports, Clark Gillies who played for the Islanders in their glory days when they won 4 Stanley Cups dumped a can of dog food into the illustrious trophy and let his mutt eat his dinner. Someone asked “Why did you let that dog eat his food out of the Stanley Cup ?”

His response was brilliant: “Because he’s a good dog!”

And trust me from the stories I have heard about that Cup, the dog’s mouth might have been the cleanest thing to touch the inside of that cup in years. In fact, it was probably more dangerous for the dog than any of the players.

And speaking of hockey, I attended my first Sabres game last night at HSBC Arena with my newfound friend Steve Spear (husband of the legendary youth and young adult minister here, Patty Bubar Spear). He got me up to speed on Sabres history and while we left saddened by a Buffalo loss to Colorado, they at least got a point by taking the mighty Avalanche to a shootout. A great game and a great time with a new friend.

I was never a huge hockey fan. I mean I rooted for the Islanders in their hey-day and then got to work on Rangers broadcasts and I have a picture of me with the Stanley Cup thanks to the Devils future Hall of Fame goaltender Martin Brodeur (who brought the cup to the radio station and let me carry it out to his car!). But I was lukewarm about the whole thing, riding the wave when hockey captured the attention of New York City as the Islanders did in the 80s and the Rangers Stanley Cup season after a 54 year drought. But I always thought I should have been a bigger hockey fan, because by and large hockey players are the nicest pro-athletes around. I don’t think any Met or Yankee would let me touch the World Series trophy, much less, carry it out to the car. The intimacy of that trophy is renown. I even told my wife at our wedding to hold her bouquet up like she was holding the Stanley Cup.

She just looked at me oddly. And yet, she married me anyway!

Regardless, Steve informed me that these Sabres have never won the cup. Well, fasten your seat belts because there’s a dog who’s about to get this gift very soon…

Believe in the power of the Doggie Jersey…

And go Sabres!