By Michael J. Weber
There have been a number of tragic stories about animal abuse in the past few weeks. Most often, the stories are about people who died and/or left numerous cats and dogs in their home unattended, with many becoming sick or dying.
These sad stories anger most of us with sensibilities toward animals. Perhaps if we looked at animals in a different way, we might prevent some of this abuse.
Someone once said that our relationship with animals mirrors our relationship with God.
I think dogs, more so than other pets, often bring out the best in us. They often show us what being human is all about, teaching us to enjoy life’s simple things.
They also offer lessons in friendship and trust and, more important, in steadfast, unconditional love. In this sense, they are gateways to the divine.
Most people have heard the one about the agnostic dyslexic who questioned: “Is there a dog?” Well, a few days with Bruno and one would find sufficient metaphors to answer in the affirmative.
Bruno was an 80-pound Weimaraner that lived eight short years with us before he had to be euthanized. He died of heart disease and bone cancer, not uncommon in large purebreds. We all have heard of owners who grieve their dogs and vice versa, but experiencing this firsthand was gut-wrenching.
Bruno’s love for us was unconditional. He turned our lives upside down. This is what I mean when I say that dogs can be gateways to the divine.
Anyone who has cared for a dog knows what it means – you lose control of your life. You eventually have “to let go and let dog!”
Borrowing from the book “Dogspell: A Dogmatic Theology on the Abounding Love of God” by Mary Ellen Ashcroft, one can find many theological metaphors in the behaviors of most dogs: the open table-fellowship (dogs don’t care whom they eat with), the “full-body wag greetings,” the getting down and dirty (touching lepers and spitting in the mud), the disrespecting of the standoffish and the well-heeled (dogs will jump on everyone) and the rushing head-long into anything. Bruno had all of these traits and more.
Bruno gave his all, no matter what the situation. Two of his major surgeries were due to football injuries on his back legs.
Bruno’s approach to life was filled with wild exuberance and joy – pulling the Thanksgiving turkey on himself, eating full bags of doughnuts, getting into lipstick. Our vet’s assistant called him the “dog that ate Grafton.”
He once chased a raccoon and got the worst of it. He never figured out opossums. He got a fishing hook stuck through his nose after messing around in the garage. He would fearlessly pick up snakes. He was constantly hiding things but was happy to show you later where he hid them (if he remembered). He would never eat alone. He would sit like a human on the couch, philosophizing with the best of us.
If you weren’t giving him enough attention, he would literally sit on whatever you were reading as if to say, “You weren’t really interested in that, were you?”
When Bruno became sick, he didn’t stop his body wags and his joy in seeing us. Even near the end, when he vomited everything because of the meds, he still tried to please, still wanted to play, even if for a few minutes before he collapsed in exhaustion.
He probably knew when it was time for him to go, but it was still hard – much harder on us than him, I suspect.
With Bruno gone, life is less vibrant; there’s less laughter, but it’s much quieter. No floppy ear noises, no four-paw prancing, no barking, no body wags.
I miss his companionship but most of all his approach to life, full of innocence, wonder and his unconditional love.
Michael J. Weber of Grafton is a design engineer and teacher.
Reprinted with permission
When I was quite young, my father had one of the first telephones in our neighborhood.
I remember well the polished old case fastened to the wall. The shiny receiver hung on the side of the box.
I was too little to reach the telephone, but used to listen with fascination when my mother talked to it.
Then I discovered that somewhere inside the wonderful device lived an amazing person — her name was Information, Please and there was nothing she did not know.
Information, Please could supply anybody’s number and the correct time.
My first personal experience with this genie-in the-bottle came one day while my mother was visiting a neighbor.
Amusing myself at the tool bench in the basement, I whacked my finger with a hammer. The pain was terrible but there didn’t seem to be any reason in crying because there was no one home to give sympathy.
I walked around the house sucking my throbbing finger, finally arriving at the stairway. The telephone!
Quickly, I ran for the footstool in the parlor and dragged it to the landing. Climbing up, I unhooked the receiver in the parlor and held it to my ear.
Information, Please, I said into the mouthpiece just above my head.
A click or two and a small clear voice spoke into my ear, Information.
“I hurt my finger,” I wailed into the phone. The tears came readily enough now that I had an audience.
“Isn’t your mother home?” came the question.
“Nobody’s home but me.” I blubbered.
“Are you bleeding?” the voice asked.
“No,” I replied. “I hit my finger with the hammer and it hurts.”
“Can you open your icebox?” she asked.
I said I could. “Then chip off a little piece of ice and hold it to your finger,” said the voice.
After that, I called Information, Please for everything. I asked her for help with my geography and she told me where Philadelphia was. She helped me with my math. She told me my pet chipmunk, that I had caught in the park just the day before, would eat fruit and nuts.
Then, there was the time Petey, our pet canary died. I called Information, Please and told her the sad story. She listened, then said the usual things grown-ups say to soothe a child, but I was inconsolable.
I asked her, “Why is it that birds should sing so beautifully and bring joy to all families, only to end up as a heap of feathers on the bottom of a cage?”
She must have sensed my deep concern, for she said quietly, “Paul, always remember that there are other worlds to sing in.” Somehow I felt better.
Another day I was on the telephone for “Information, Please.”
Information, said the now familiar voice.
“How do you spell fix?” I asked.
All this took place in a small town in the Pacific Northwest. When I was nine years old, we moved across the country to Boston. I missed my friend very much. Information, Please belonged in that old wooden box back home, and I somehow never thought of trying the tall, shiny new phone that sat on the table in the hall.
As I grew into my teens, the memories of those childhood conversations never really left me. Often, in moments of doubt and perplexity I would recall the serene sense of security I had then. I appreciated now how patient, understanding, and kind she was to have spent her time on a little boy.
A few years later, on my way west to college, my plane put down in Seattle. I had about half an hour or so between planes. I spent 15 minutes on the phone with my sister, who lived there now.
Then without thinking what I was doing, I dialed my hometown operator and said, Information, Please. Miraculously, I heard the small, clear voice I knew so well, Information.
I hadn’t planned this but I heard myself saying, “Could you please tell me how to spell fix?”
There was a long pause. Then came the soft-spoken answer, “I guess your finger must have healed by now.”
I laughed. “So it’s really still you,” I said. “I wonder if you have any idea how much you meant to me during that time?”
“I wonder,” she said, “if you know how much your calls meant to me? I never had any children, and I used to look forward to your calls.”
I told her how often I had thought of her over the years and I asked if I could call her again when I came back to visit my sister.
“Please do,” she said. “Just ask for Sally.”
Three months later I was back in Seattle. A different voice answered, Information.
I asked for Sally.
“Are you a friend?” she asked.
“Yes, a very old friend,” I answered.
“I’m sorry to have to tell you this,” she said. “Sally has been working part-time the last few years because she was sick. She died five weeks ago.”
Before I could hang up she said, “Wait a minute. Did you say your name was Paul?”
“Yes,” I replied.
“Well, Sally left a message for you. She wrote it down in case you called. Let me read it to you.”
The note said, “Tell him I still say there are other worlds to sing in. He’ll know what I mean.”
I thanked her and hung up. I knew what Sally meant.
Never underestimate the impression you may make on others.
Whose life have you touched today?
After 21 years of marriage, I discovered a new way of keeping alive the spark of love.
A little while ago I had to go out with an other woman. It was really my wife’s idea.
“I know that you love her,” she said one day, taking me by surprise.
“But I love YOU,” I protested.
“I know, but you also love her.”
The other woman that my wife wanted me to visit was my mother, who has been a widow for 19 years, but the demands of my work and my three children had made it possible to visit her only occasionally. That night I called to invite her to go out for dinner and a movie.
“What’s wrong, are you well,” she asked? My mother is the type of woman who suspects that a late night call or a surprise invitation is a sign of bad news.
“I thought that it would be pleasant to pass some time with you,” I responded.
“Just the two of us.” She thought about it for a moment, then said, “I would like that very much.”
That Friday after work, as I drove over to pick her up I was a bit nervous. When I arrived at her house, I noticed that she, too, seemed to be nervous about our date.
She waited in the door with her coat on. She had curled her hair and was wearing the dress that she had worn to celebrate her last wedding anniversary.
She smiled from a face that was as radiant as an angel’s.
“I told my friends that I was going to go out with my son, and they were impressed,” she said, as she got into the car. “They can’t wait to hear about our meeting”.
We went to a restaurant that, although not elegant, was very nice and cozy. My mother took my arm as if she were the First Lady.
After we sat down, I had to read the menu. Her eyes could only read large print. Half way through the entrées, I lifted my eyes and saw Mom sitting there staring at me. A nostalgic smile was on her lips.
“It was I who used to have to read the menu when you were small,” she said.
“Then it’s time that you relax and let me return the favor,” I responded.
During the dinner we had an agreeable conversation, nothing extraordinary, but catching up on recent events of each others life.
We talked so much that we missed the movie. As I and the other woman at her house later, she said, “I’ll go out with you again, but only if you let me invite you.” I agreed.
“How was your dinner date?” asked my wife when I got home.
“Very nice. Much more so than I could have imagined,” I answered.
A few days later my mother died of a massive heart attack. It happened so suddenly that I didn’t have a chance to do anything for her.
Some time later I received an envelope with a copy of a restaurant receipt from the same place mother and I had dined.
An attached note said: “I paid this bill in advance. I was almost sure that I couldn’t be there but, never-the-less, I paid for two plates – one for you and the other for your wife. You will never know what that night meant for me. I love you.”
At that moment I understood the importance of saying, in time: “I LOVE YOU” and to give our loved ones the time that they deserve.
Nothing in life is more important than your family.
Give them the time they deserve, even if mom is the other woman, because these things cannot be put off till “some other time.”