We questioned their judgment when the Coopers asked us to take care of Harry for a week. We are good people, but we are not dog people. I have not lived with a dog since my Chihuahua Catastrophe lived up to his name in an encounter with a brand new 1968 Ford Mustang.
Our only goal was to keep Harry alive until his family got home. We were so afraid that something would happen, but Harry slept most of the time. He disappears like Harry Houdini into blankets and pillows.
Harry is a combination of Harry Styles and Harry Truman—hip, but wise. He’s a little Toto, a little Benji, and a lot Ewok. He is nine years old, so if he was human he would be seven years older than I am. Harry is a Shih Tzu, a breed not meant to hunt, herd, or protect. If I fall into a well, Harry will keep the news to himself.
I want us to be Turner and Hooch, but Harry sees our walks as an opportunity to train me to take orders. My attempts at “Sit,” “Stay,” and “Heel” are met with Harry’s you-don’t-know-what-you’re-doing look. Several of our walks take place in freezing weather, but Harry likes being a chili dog—though he does not care for that joke.
Harry walks faster than I do so that he can pretend I am not there. He is fascinated with finding the right pile of leaves, hibernating squirrels, and the backsides of other dogs. Walking with Harry is interactive. We speed up. We slow down. We move from side to side. We get excited about parked cars.
New Yorkers ask, “What’s your dog’s name?” more often than “What’s your name?” I wonder why these people did not talk to me before I borrowed a dog, but I like the subculture of dog people. They may not speak to one another if they do not have their dog, but there is not a lot of judgment.
I assume Harry and I are friends after our week together, but he could be thinking Cujo thoughts and I would never know. Though Harry seems unimpressed with me that does not keep me from being wild about Harry. Petting Harry is like singing the blues. You feel better though you are not sure why.
Hanging around Harry is good for my soul. Politics is ugly. Work is stressful. People can be difficult. Harry does not care about any of that.
I talk to Harry a lot. He is not attentive, but he does not interrupt. Talking to Harry is like talking to myself, which is just a little bit like praying.
Abraham Lincoln said, “I care not much for a man’s religion whose dog is not the better for it.”
Caring for animals may seem unimportant with all of the problems in the world, but the message of loving one another, loving animals, and loving creation is a hopeful word in a troubled time. When good churches have food drives they include dog food. They take pets to visit the sick and host adoption events.
When St. Francis talked to animals they talked back, but I can only imagine what Harry is thinking: “You could learn a lot from me. The past is gone. The future isn’t here yet. Enjoy the moment. I appreciate what I have. I don’t sit around wishing I was Lassie. I don’t want to be a terrier or a boxer or a poodle. I am fine with who I am. Be happy with who you are. There’s a reason all dogs go to heaven. We don’t care about money. We don’t worry ourselves to death. Dogs don’t hold grudges. We aren’t judgmental, like cats. You are too easily frustrated. You should chase things. Jump for joy when you’re happy. Get excited about whatever is in front of you. Wag your tail because life is good.”
We grow in our faith in a variety of ways. We worship. We read. We pray. We listen. We walk the dog.