My grown daughter recently noted that she had never lived in a home without a dog. It reminded me that statistics show raising children with pets helps them learn responsibility and kindness. And adults with dogs generally live seven years longer and are less lonely in old age. Pet ownership is an outlet for giving and receiving love.
We have two adopted fur-children. Our black shepherd mix, Elsa was about six months old when she crawled to us on her belly in a state park. Something had punctured her right eye, leaving her totally blind on that side. On our first trip to get shots and a checkup the vet looked at her, and me already babying her, and said to Elsa, “You are the luckiest dog in Tennessee.”
A few months later, I decided to adopt a friend for Elsa. On petfinder.com I found a dog pound in a neighboring state with a 3-year-old dog and her four puppies. From the mother dog’s picture, it was clear that there was more than one Benji in the world. When I called, the dog pound supervisor told me that the puppies were already adopted but the mother dog, Coco, was available. (Coco was what our first granddaughter had named her Uncle Cole because she couldn’t say “Cole.” Obviously, this was meant to be.) The supervisor said that Coco was shy and didn’t particularly like men, but was a good dog. If she hadn’t already had four dogs, she said she would have taken Coco home. With that assurance, I paid for her spaying and arranged to pick her up the day after her surgery.
Two granddaughters (11 and 9 at the time) and I drove two hours to the pound to pick her up. By then Coco had been there five days and hardly resembled the pretty white-haired dog in the picture. Her coat and eyes were dull. She wet on the floor and bit me when I tried to pet her and put her in the dog carrier. But I knew that attitude could be changed. Coco slept most of the way home. It took a while to get her adjusted to the family and her new dog-sister. Suddenly she had good food, love, and walks on a leash. The first time she hopped on our bed, I tried to get her down. I had said I wouldn’t have a dog sleeping with me again. But my husband said, “Oh, let her stay.” Her fear of men, who had abused her in the past, hadn’t lasted long. He’d won her over. And she obviously had won him over.
It’s been about ten years since we adopted the dogs, and they’ve taught me a lot. When I notice Elsa and Coco looking up at me with worshipful eyes, I remember the Syrophoenician woman who begged Jesus to heal her demon-possessed daughter (Mark 7:24–30). Because He had come as the Jew’s Messiah and she was not a Jew, to test her faith He asked her, “Should I take the children’s bread and give it to the [wild] dogs?” She replied, “But, Lord, the [little pet] dogs eat the crumbs from the children’s table.” He told her to go home—He had healed her daughter. She had asked for grace and received it.
Day by day, my dogs remind me that when I give grace to a person, or even an animal, I am following in the footsteps of the ultimate Giver of grace.
By the way, like most children Elsa has a middle name. It’s Grace.