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How a Mutt Taught Me About God
By Phyllis Schomaker
Like our four-legged friends, we are devoted followers of God, our beloved owner.

Q U I C K S C A N

Smiling Heavenward
1. Being Close to God
2. Understanding God's Word
3. Comprehending God's Ways
4. Testing God
5. Remembering God
6. Belonging to God
7. Heeding God's Call
8. Made in God's Likeness
9. Being Unafraid in God's Care
10. Coming Home
11. God's Generosity
12. Making Sacrifices

PHOTO © ISTOCKPHOTO/CLAUDIA DEWALD

Dogs are mentioned more than a dozen times in the Bible. St. Francis of Assisi talked to the animals and even tamed a wolf because he believed they were creatures of God, like us.

And of course "dog" is "God" spelled backward. What do we mean when we say that? It's just a cute saying—something we direct toward other dog lovers. Even the most fanatical dog lovers, however, would probably not confuse their canines with the Almighty. But I did have a spiritual enlightening once that was inspired by my dog. Never mind cats, now. That's another story.

God made dogs for us to have as companions and helpers, and for the immeasurable pleasure and happiness they give us. Perhaps it's a stretch to think that dogs were also meant to teach us about God's love. With all that dogs mean to us, is that too much to consider?

There are over 74 million owned dogs in the United States. Thirty-nine percent of American households own at least one dog. Over $45 billion will be spent on pets this year in the United States alone. That's double the amount of 10 years ago. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, 74 percent of dog owners consider their pet as a child or family member.

Obviously, there is something very human about dogs. Is there something very Godlike about us? With all that God created, would it be unreasonable to think that God also made dogs to teach us about his love for us? It seems to me like something God would do.

Smiling Heavenward

I was cozying up in bed with Rick Warren's latest book at the time—The Purpose Driven® Life: What on Earth Am I Here For? He might not be happy to know that I wasn't so much inspired by his words as I was by the dog sitting there watching me. I can only hope that Warren doesn't misconstrue this to be unflattering. Actually, his words did get through to me, but not without the help of my dog, Ashley, a Chow-Saint Bernard mix.

I happened to be reading that our purpose is to make God smile. I had been taught by the classic Baltimore Catechism that God made us "to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him forever in the next." Not a word about smiling. So I stopped and glanced over at my dog, who was on the end of the bed, watching me read as though it were the most fascinating thing she had ever seen.

This was so amusing to me that I involuntarily, unconsciously smiled. Ashley made me smile. Is that how God feels when we turn our eyes and hearts toward him? We wait to hear God's silent words to us, watching for a sign that he's there, that he listens, that he cares. Skeptics might say that the dog was hoping for a treat, but I know better. In that instant I knew something very important: We make God smile.

Dogs depend on us for everything. They yearn to bring us pleasure and to feel that we love them. Is that not how God wants us to be toward him? Can we say we love God as much as our dogs love us?

With the love I feel for God—and my dog—as well as the love and companionship they give me, I couldn't help but dig deeper into this new insight.

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Dogs want to be close to us. They will curl up at our feet even if the bare, hard floor is not as comfortable as their favorite cushion. They jump up when they see us because they want to be as close to our faces as they can get.

Is that not how it is when we kneel to pray? We can pray while seated or even lying down, but sometimes it seems better on bended knee. We do this to make us feel closer to God. Does this make God smile? I think so.

Dogs try so hard with head-twisting, ear-twitching effort to understand words we speak to them in a language that is not their own. Their faces are so amusing when they are trying to understand what we are saying. We are creatures of a totally different species, as we are to God.

If God's words were easy to understand, there wouldn't be 38,000 different denominations all based on the Bible (World Christian Encyclopedia, 2001). Yet dogs do learn to recognize some of our words out of sheer desire to understand us. They learn commands first, then they recognize when it's time for a walk or where the snacks are kept.

Do we try to listen to God telling us what he wants us to do? Do we learn God's commands first and then long to go deeper in our understanding? When we try to hear God, does God smile? I think so.

Our motives and values are beyond a dog's ability to understand. They are puzzled that we are upset over a chewed shoe or a hole dug in the yard. To a dog, these are good things.

Neither can we really understand God—whether it's the challenges we face, the trials God allows us to endure or our seemingly unanswered prayers. There are mysteries we contemplate but may never grasp, like the Trinity or the Eucharist.

Our dogs seem to accept our greater wisdom even if they can't understand our ways. Do we do that with God? And does it make God smile when we try to understand what cannot be understood? I think so.

Dogs test their boundaries. They escape from their safe backyard to run wild for a while—not because they don't love us, but just to have some fun. Isn't that how we are sometimes with God? And after a while, after the fun is over and the cold sets in and we're hungry, do we not long for God? Do we not come limping and weak, filthy and tearful, to scratch at the door, asking for readmittance to the warmth of God's love?

Scripture assures us that God will always forgive us and welcome us home. And does God smile when the prodigal comes home? I think so.

Dogs are overjoyed to see us whether we have been away for a few days or only a few hours. We may leave something of ourselves to comfort our dogs to let them know we will be back in time—a concept they cannot fathom. Jesus said to partake in the Last Supper in remembrance of him. It is God's way of being with us still until he comes again.

Does God smile when we receive Holy Communion and hold him in our hearts while we wait to be with him forever? I think so.

Dogs belong to us. We own them. We call them "our" dogs. And we belong to God because he has made us his own. We are told that God cares for us so much as to number the hairs on our heads. God has our names in his book. God knew us before we were born. He has watched over and guided us throughout the history of time.

We belong to God and we did nothing to deserve this. Does God smile on us just because we're his? I think so.

Dogs come when we call them. It is the most important command we teach our pets—for their own good, to protect them from harm. Do we respond when God calls? Are we ready to do God's will—whatever he asks, whenever he asks? Are we ready to be with God in heaven whenever that call may come?

God told us to be ready. Would it not make God smile if we come willingly when he calls? I think so.

According to The New York Times, researchers in San Diego found that subjects were able to match pictures of dog owners with their pets more often than not. We dress them up in silly clothes and fix their hair to please our taste and mimic our appearance—at least, a great number of us do. But most of us tend to choose a dog breed that is of a nature and personality most like our own.

Is this what God meant when he said we are made in his image and likeness? Is this why so often our depiction of God in art resembles what we consider the best in human form, with a halo over our head and eyes turned upward to heaven? Does it make God smile to see us trying to be like him? I think so.

Dogs freak out over silly things. We know that their fears are unfounded—that they are perfectly safe—but dogs don't seem to know that. Bring something big, new and strange into the house and you will have something to laugh at for quite a while.

When there is a storm, our dog may cry and cower under the bed or try to climb onto our lap, regardless of whether he can actually fit there. God has told us not to fear because he is with us always. God expected the apostles to know this, and he expects that of us, too. When we freak out over things, does God smile? I think so.

Dogs notoriously find their way home when lost. Books have been written and movies have been made of near-miraculous treks these animals have made over treacherous miles. Sporadically, such events in real life appear in the news.

No matter how far we stray, we can always find our way back to God. He made us that way. And when we find our way home, does God smile? I think so.

As a nation, we spend a fortune on our pets. We shower them with gifts and loving care, feeding them special foods and rewarding them with treats and toys. We give to our dogs because we love them and want them to be happy.

God gives things to us, too, often much more than we really need. God blesses us in ways we may not know, understand or appreciate. Do we thank God or do we whimper for the next toy? He may say yes, no, later or maybe. But does God smile when he blesses us? I think so.

Dogs are famous for giving their lives to protect us. Whether it is the trusty Saint Bernard in the snowy Alps, the sleek and speedy Dalmatian fearlessly charging into a burning building or the brave police dogs who aid our officers in keeping our streets safe: It is the nature of the dog to give his own life, if need be, for us.

It could be required that we become martyrs for God's sake, and we hope to have the courage to honor God this way. On a more regular basis, we find ourselves asked to make little sacrifices for the glory of God. Whether it is giving scarcely available money to the poor or volunteering at a homeless shelter, food pantry or hospital—we make sacrifices.

It might only be giving up a favorite TV show to pray a Rosary for world peace or for the souls in purgatory. Does God smile at our sacrifices?

Oh yes, I think so.

 


Phyllis Schomaker is a retired freelance writer who has coauthored and edited books for Publications International, mostly on self-help and little-known facts about the government. A mother of four and grandmother of nine, she lives in Barnett, Missouri.


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Ask a Franciscan  |  Book Reviews  |  Eye on Entertainment  |  Editorial
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 Holy, Wholly, Healthy  |  Bible’s Supporting Cast  |  Modern Models of Holiness
 Rediscovering Catholic Traditions  |  Psalms: Heartfelt Prayers  |  Saints for Our Lives
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