Pick up any Christmas catalog this season, from L.L. Bean to Orvis, and you’re bound to see images of cute puppies and family dogs.
There sits a friendly retriever by the crackling fireplace, snuggled up on his tartan-plaid dog bed. Or there’s pajama-clad junior, hugging his new canine friend, a red bow around his collar.
There’s a reason the late Peanuts creator Charles Schulz once suggested that “Happiness is a warm puppy.”
Just see how many advertisements include a dog or a cat.
We love our pets – and our pets seem to love us.
When I was a young boy, I was drawn to two dogs. There was a Great Dane named Duke and a pug known as Sir George. They were technically my sister’s dogs, but I enjoyed playing with them. I especially appreciated the fact they kept me company through some lonely and difficult seasons of childhood.
Years ago, I raised the question in this space of whether or not dogs and cats go to Heaven. There was a spirited response. Everybody seems to have an opinion on the subject, not the least being Dr. Billy Graham:
“God will prepare everything for our perfect happiness in heaven,” wrote Dr. Graham. “And if it takes my dog being there, I believe he’ll be there.”
But setting aside the question pertaining to the eternal fate of our pets, what part do they play here on earth concerning our spiritual and emotional health?
I think if we’re so inclined, they can play a significant one.
A colleague of mine tells the story of his late mother, who, many years ago, was alone in her house on the night she received word her father had died. The family’s collie sat down beside her, and sensing her grief, laid his head on her lap. He didn’t leave her side all night.
There are countless stories in the news these days of wounded warriors, still reeling from the horrors of war, finding their emotional and physical equilibrium through the use of a service animal.
For many of us, our pets are part of our family. We walk and run and play with them. They sit beside our tables during meals and ride with us on errands to the store. We even talk with them, though Andy Rooney once remarked that if dogs could talk back, it would take the fun out of owning them.
He also said the average dog is nicer than the average person. I hope he was just having a bad day, but as the old adage goes, “Many a truth is spoken in jest.”
David Wheaton is a friend of the ministry who has previously been on our broadcast. A former professional tennis player who now hosts a Christian radio program out of Minnesota, David is a dog-lover. In fact, he’s just released a new book titled, “My Boy, Ben: A Story of Love, Loss and Grace.” It’s a wonderful read that will resonate on many levels with those of us who have loved – and lost pets.
In David’s telling, in their eight short years together, his yellow lab taught him how to “live more fully and love more deeply.” And in Ben’s final act – his journey with cancer – this beloved dog expanded David’s understanding of God’s greater plan for his own life.
Some may question how a simple dog could do all that, but perhaps some of you already know how.
What if our pets, so often selfless and hopelessly enthusiastic, were a small earthly hint of the unconditional love that awaits us?
I would love to hear your stories of your pets and the impact they’ve had on you and your family.
Do/did you have a favorite one and why?