The morning of Feb. 16 was the first time in 32 years that I was not greeted by a dog’s wagging tail and an enthusiastic acknowledgement for my sudden appearance. This constant in my life always made me feel loved and glad I made my way downstairs to start a new day. It was the first time I did not fill a water bowl, make an extra egg, give a treat or listen for a bark that would let me know Chianti’s morning exploration of the back yard had come to an end. My experience was not uncommon; it is one all those who open their homes and hearts to a pet unfortunately will come to know – the day our beloved pet will no longer be with us.
Even though there is a void, a sadness and a silence in our home that speaks of our loss, none of that will ever have the ability to overshadow all the joy and love that was a permanent fixture in our household through the lives of Bandit, Angie, Pebbles and Chianti. I believe as they accompanied us as part of our family they shared as only they could the hidden lessons God intends for us to learn as we encounter all created things.
As one of the 82 million households in the United States who have pets, we as a family can attest to the many delights that come with the companionship of a four-legged family member; but we, as so many others, also recognize what it means to be entrusted with their care. In the book of Genesis we first glimpse the relationship God intends between humans and animals. God in his generosity has granted us the gift of these creatures; we are meant to walk this earth in each other’s company. This time allows an opportunity for all secrets hidden in their existence to be slowly revealed, bringing an awareness of what our heavenly Father wants us to understand of how our lives are stitched together creating a fine cloth – providing comfort and care for both.
Throughout the Bible we find many instances where animals are employed to disclose valuable lessons to humanity; “but now ask the beasts and let them teach you; and the birds of the heavens, and let them tell you” (Job 12:7). I am grateful for the many spiritual lessons that our pets impart. I believe the greatest of all the lessons is what we learn about our capacity to love. We discover that we are not only able but often prefer to put the needs of another before our own. We willingly make sacrifices for the well-being of another without an expectation of receiving anything in return. Displays of affection become our natural response to the affection shown us, and patience becomes our virtue of choice. Many of us find a confidante or a source of comfort in our pets. Things that we may not be able to express may fall on ears that can only listen; tears are seen by eyes that can never tel;l but somehow our hearts are lightened by a knowing look or a deliberate snuggle. There are a great many things we discover about ourselves throughout this relationship. Some pets surprise us with delight, and others lead us to needed growth and change.
I think the truth that I have found that may escape all of us from time to time is that our furry friends inhabit our homes not just for “companionship,” but they bring with them life lessons that will enable us to live deeper, richer lives. These inconspicuous teachers have helped us come to know the treasure in opening ourselves up to the great capacity we have to love, training us in the practice and leading us out in to a world so in need of love.
Prayer to St. Francis
Good St. Francis, you loved all God’s creatures.
To you they were brothers and sisters.
Help us to follow your example of treating every living thing with kindness.
St. Francis, Patron Saint of animals, watch over my pet and keep my companion safe and healthy. Amen.