Growing up, I never lived in a house that had a pet in it. Occasionally, I would feed a stray dog or cat, but then Mama would remind me that if you started feeding them, they would never leave, and we just could not afford another mouth to feed. My best friend’s family always had at least two chihuahuas, and her father loved those dogs. They had the run of the place. Because I had not ever owned a dog, I could not understand how people came to love them so.
Then in 2007, Douglas and I moved to Illinois when I accepted a teaching position at a local university. Douglas had grew up with dogs, and he thought that it would help my frequent bouts of grief if I had a dog. He believed that a dog would bring much-needed joy and peace into my life, and my doctor agreed. So, we went to the local animal shelter to adopt a dog.
We decided that we would both look at the different dogs awaiting adoption and then see if we could agree on one. Well, God was certainly intervening, because we chose the very same dog, both of us sure that he had been chosen for us. He was a beagle mix, about one or two years old, and there was just something about him that spoke to both of our hearts.
The paperwork was completed pretty quickly, but it took over an hour afterwards to leave the animal shelter, due to the dog’s hesitancy to leave his cell. He had been mistreated by the last owner, so he was afraid of everyone. I thought that we would have to leave him and choose another dog, but Douglas said that he was meant to be our dog, and that we would take as much time as needed until he trusted us.
For the next 45 minutes, my very compassionate husband talked to the dog and slowly coaxed him out of his cell and into the car. He hugged him and spoke such words of love to him, asking the dog to trust us to love him and care for him. He called him a good dog, and the shelter workers and other potential adopters looked on, amazed at Douglas’s patience. Douglas never gave up on that precious dog, because he recognized that when humans or animals have been abused, you must first convince them that you are different from the person who hurt them and that you truly can be patient and loving towards them. He learned this lesson dealing with a broken me.
Once in the backseat of the car on a blanket, with both of us assuring him that he would be fine, the dog settled into the blanket and went to sleep. Douglas then asked me what I wanted to name him. Thinking that I was being original and choosing a unique name, I chose the name Bailey, as in Bailey Beagle. Well, I read later that Bailey was the name most given to dogs. How about them apples!
We stopped at the nearest Target, and like all new parents, we bought everything we thought Bailey might need: toys, dry and wet food, a bed, a leash, a tub, and a brush. We must have spent a fortune. When we arrived home, it took a little less coaxing to get him into the house. He immediately scouted the place, and upon finding it suitable, he decided to stay, thankfully. A couple days later, we took him for his first visit to the vet, and he truly became part of the family, for he was called Bailey Sowers.
He was in reasonably good health. Of course, his two humans had no idea about nutrition and what to expect from this wonderful addition to our household, and, again like new parents, the vet gave us a book and then told us what we were doing wrong. We were fast learners. Bailey and his humans settled into a life together, and, although I thought that we were going to teach Bailey life lessons, he was more the teacher than the student.
From the first day in our home, Bailey seemed to sense that Douglas and I needed lots of love. We were all kindred spirits, all having been abused in past relationships. I was often sad and depressed, and it was as though he knew just when I needed his attention. He spent a lot of time downstairs in the basement with Douglas, but when I felt the darkness coming on, miraculously he would appear. He would jump in my lap, and look up at me as though he was saying, “I am here, Mama, and you are not alone.” It was so uncanny. I did not realize how perceptive dogs were to our moods.
He also seemed to intuitively know when my sugar was out of whack, often waking us up in the night when my sugar levels dropped dangerously. Douglas said that Bailey could smell the difference. It never failed, and I believe that he saved my life on at least one occasion. But it was in my interactions with him that I came to really “see” and understand God’ s amazing love. I told Douglas that one day I was going to write a book entitled, “All I Ever Knew Learned about God’s Love I Learned from My Dog.”
The first lesson was on the forgiveness of God. When Bailey had an “accident” in the house, he would look so guilty and ashamed, and he would run away and hide. I would clean it up, and afterward, I would find him, hug him and tell him that it was okay. I would let him know that he was forgiven and still loved.
One day after I had mopped up the latest wet spot, I suddenly thought: That is what God does for us. We all make mistakes, for Romans 3:23 reminds us that we have all sinned and come short of God’s glory. So often, the guilt and shame of our actions lead us to try to hide from God, thinking that He could never forgive us or even love us or keep loving us.
But, God loves us so much that He provided for the forgiveness of our sins, through the precious blood of the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ our Lord. We must come to Him and be cleansed through repentance and confession to God alone. In Isaiah 1:18, it states, “Come now, let’s settle this,” says the Lord. “Though your sins are like scarlet, I will make them as white as snow. Though they are red like crimson, I will make them as white as wool.”
I have always loved how when the woman caught in adultery was brought to Jesus to condemn her to death, Jesus, in his compassion, did not condemn her, but he did tell her to stop sinning. I believe He said this to her because He did not want to see her hurt and humiliated again, for He loved her.
A second lesson was on why God created men and women and, yes, pets. The first day we returned to work and left Bailey alone, we put him in the bathroom and shut the door. For more than eight hours he was alone and he must have been frantic. Yes, we recognized the cruelty of this after the fact, but it was done out of ignorance. Being in a confined space where he could not move and where there was no one there to see or interact with him must have really scared him, as it would even us as human beings.
When we got home and opened the door to the bathroom, he had completely shredded the carpet, and he was in such a frenzy, running through the house at top speed. He would not let us near him. We called the vet, thinking that he needed a tranquilizer or something to calm him down. But, eventually, after we finally caught him, we took turns holding him in our laps and assuring him that we would never do that again. He seemed to understand that he was going to be okay.
The veterinarian told us to go buy a kennel large enough for him to move around in and tall enough for him to see through the front window. We should place him in it just before we leave the house and open the curtains so that he could see people and their dogs go by and bark at the them and at the mailman as he delivered the mail. We followed his instructions, and we never had a problem with him again. He needed to feel as though he was interacting in the world and that he had not been left alone.
From that episode, and what seemed like a scolding from Bailey, I learned that all God’s creatures need each other. I wrote a blog recently about having a hard time leaving the house now that I have retired. I feel safe alone in my house, not worried about being rejected or teased. But in my isolation, I tend to feel useless and unproductive, almost like no one needs me.
So, I understand why Bailey was so frantic: we need to see and interact with others. Last week, I went to the gym where many people my age exercise during the day. Just walking on the treadmill and talking to the person next to me was soul sweet. I resolved to get out more and see people and nature, even if it is only going to the grocery store and smiling at everyone. It is so life-affirming.
We are social animals, and being alone all day without seeing other people is not good for our emotional and spiritual health. God, in His infinite wisdom, understood this very fact. After Adam was created, God saw that all the other animals had partners, so he said, It is not good for the man to be alone, and He created woman. All of these years later, it is still not good for people to spend too much time alone. Even more, when I see the love between humans and their dogs, cats, and other pets, I just know that these relationships were created by God for the benefit of both parties.
Lastly, I learned that what is most important about people and animals is their capacity to give and receive love. Bailey accepted us as we were. He did not care how many degrees we had or what titles we had, all that really mattered to him was that we loved him and was happy having him in our lives. The first thing people often ask on meeting us is what do you do, and according to your answer, they judge your value and worth.
Dogs simply do not care whether you are rich or poor, the color of your skin, your gender, and not even if you are homeless. They love you according to how you treat them. I never worried that Bailey cared what I looked like, such as was I pretty enough or slim enough to be his mother. He gave me love unconditionally and so pure of motives. That is how Jesus loves us. He does not check our educational or family pedigrees to determine our value and worth in His sight.
He chose several unlearned men as His disciples, fishermen without a lot of book learning. He ate with sinners and people that the Pharisees called scum. He interacted with Jews and Gentiles, women and men, bond and slaves, healing them, saving them, and dying for them all.
Too often today in some churches, your value is based on whether you have been to seminary and have letters behind your name. But not so with Jesus, for Jesus said in Matthew 11:28, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Indeed, 1 Samuel 16:7 reminds us that while humans look at the outward appearance, God looks at the heart. All Jesus requires of us is that we love the Lord with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength, and that we love our neighbors as we love ourselves, meaning that we demonstrate the capacity to give and receive love!
I still miss Bailey after ten years. When we moved to California, we moved in with Douglas’s parents, and his father would not let us keep a dog there. He had his gardener take Bailey home with him, stating he had children he could play with. Douglas and I both were devastated, and I cried for days. I was so angry with his father, but we decided that we could go visit him.
Well, that was hard on Bailey and us, because he could not understand why we would not take him with us at the end of the visits. So, we made the difficult decision to stop visiting him and let him bond with his new family. The children had come to love him. I can barely write this post, as my heart still breaks at losing him,
We never got another dog. We started to adopt another dog recently, but with plans to travel a lot in Europe, we do not want to leave another dog behind. The pain of loss was just too great. When we are finally ready to stay put, we may get another dog. I miss the camaraderie and amazing love of a dog. You can learn so much from these four-legged creatures about the power of God’s love for His creations.
Do you have a dog? What has he or she taught you? What other pet do you have? What have you learned from them? Have they ever saved your life?