One of the best blessings we can give to our dogs is this: “Good dog!” It’s not just the words, but also the tone of our voices and enthusiasm with which we pronounce such a benediction. And indeed, I’m thinking of divine praise as I’m thinking about the demise of our nine-year old dog, Wilson Waldo Veldheer DeYoung.
We met Wilson when he was a puppy; we had attended a rescue dog group’s open house, and saw that he was sleeping and deceptively quiet. He was also doggone cute–with a brown spot on his back side, with brown markings, and freckles on his otherwise white hair.
We “redeemed” him, so to speak, as he and his siblings had been slated for destruction prior to their rescue.
We had just returned from an educational tour to learn of the Waldensian influence in Italy. Peter Waldo, the reformed-before-the-Reformation, was a remarkable figure who led believers to read the scriptures for themselves, and eventually, to challenging the Roman Catholic Church. So, we felt that Wilson’s middle name, Waldo, would be a tribute to our learning. His first name? “Wilson” came as a result of our affinity for Tom Hanks’ movies, and wanting a name that was easy to yell.
Redemption doesn’t come easy, mind you. We had completed a lengthy adoption application, had several back-and-forth emails, phone calls, and finally, a home visit/inspection to see if we passed muster. Perhaps surprisingly to some, we did pass. Wilson was left with us at the conclusion of that visit. Adopted: we adopted him, and he us.
Of course, there are so many unspoken gestures between owners and their pets. We learned hand signals, and gestures, and even facial gestures. Wilson’s obedience to the sign to “stop” or “lie down,” was quite good, actually. And when I think of the Psalm 123 that references the servant’s eyes on the hands of the master, I think of how we worked so hard in obedience class on commands–both spoken and unspoken. He would indeed, watch for the signal to come, or to be released from a position he’d been told to hold.
He had his own gestures, of course. The pleading eyes that indicated he was ever so eager for a nibble from our plates (not until we were finished with dinner, mind you). His eyes told of his anticipation when he was given permission to jump up onto my lap in the recliner chair for Sunday afternoon naps. He could nuzzle his nose into our sides to encourage some attention. He would perch his snout on the thigh of visitors as we ate, reminding them that he could sometimes bend the rules of the house. He would stand leaning into our legs, or lie on our feet to stay attached to us, or remind us of our attachment to him. He could lick our faces with reckless abandon; he greeted us with amazing enthusiasm.
Going back to the Psalm’s metaphor of the servant’s observance of the master’s gestures (mistress, actually), what are the gestures God makes that I see, or that I don’t respond to? Is there training involved that I should pursue in desire to obey God?
Of course, WIlson is witness to God’s glory in general revelation. He saw autumn leaf piles as gifts from heaven for his nose. Snow was great, too (beyond making it yellow). He would perch himself to be ready to catch snowballs tossed into the air for him to smash with his nose and eat. He chomped on icicles, waded in the water, scrambled after mice with a curiosity and appreciation for a new toy. He’d get “geeked” when the wind was strong, wired with the energy of the air. Wilson crunched sticks, learned the sound of the neighbor’s diesel truck, and was adept at getting his squeaky toys to squeak. Over and over.
Wilson could play so well, and encouraged us to play. He didn’t play fair, because he would hold onto the stick or ball or frisbee. He loved having me get on the floor with him and rambunctiously touch his paws. He could chase around the kitchen table, and hide from me with the diligence of a trained scout. When things were quiet and I didn’t know where he was, I would ask, like God and Adam, “Wilson, where are you?” He then poked his head out from wherever he was, tail wagging.
There were times, especially when he was young, when he bolted out the door and ran blocks away to one of the busiest streets in our town. I’d go looking for him, calling his name, ready to kill him when I found him. He chewed a few things that still bear the marks of his teeth, including some of my dress shoes and favorite socks. He chased away the blue heron that we liked seeing, and barked way, way too much.
Oh, Wilson was such a good dog. The day I’d made the appointment to see if this was the time to put him down, I set the phone down, bawled my eyes out, and went to see how he was doing. The previous two days he’d not been able to get up to stand, so I’d carried him. But after this phone call, I found him standing up, with his head turned its curious little angle, tail wagging. He was such a funny dog with his groaning with jealousy at other dogs walking by, or twisting his head out of curiosity. He encouraged playfulness in us; he was a terrific example of a creature who loved life and food and was eager for affection. He acted like he thought we’d bought the Mustang convertible just to take him for rides in it, twitching his nose and letting his ears flap in the wind. What a blessing he was for us, an unconditionally gracious companion and beloved creature of God.
Even though “the rainbow bridge” is a popular way of trying to articulate our hopes of seeing our pets again, I’m not sure I buy the schmultzy imaginative bridge idea. I do attend to the words of the Psalm that assuredly declare, “You save humans and animals alike, O Lord,” (Psalm 36.6). What that redemption looks like for animals, much less humans, continues to be a mystery…that I anticipate seeing and realizing some day, for all the people on God’s good earth, and for the good dogs and cats and birds. Snakes, I hope not to see wherever this redemption site takes place, thank you very much. And I don’t think WIlson liked snakes, either.