From as far back as I can remember, dogs have been part of my life. Some are more memorable than others. Nikki had a penchant for burrowing under the fence and running off; Heidi almost got carried away by a coyote, were it not for an alert father; Barnabas was a true Jekyll and Hyde—a faithful friend who would turn on you at the drop of a napkin (or anything else with food on it); Max, a loveable mix from the pound who ate everything, including the T111 siding off our newly built home (he ended up on an Oregon farm, where he could do damage to other things); Rochester, the most perfect of dogs, but lost to blindness at 6; Garth, my Netherlands walking partner who never saw a dish of food (or a Dutch Cheese wheel) that he could not eat; and Spencer, our first Airedale.
One of the huge problem with dogs is that they die, and in most cases, way too soon. This week, we have spent part of it living with a dying dog. I noticed it a few weeks ago in Spencer, a loss of weight that has progressed to the point that petting him is to feel all the contours of his ribs and spine and joints. It’s like something inside of him has slowly taken over and is sucking the life out of him, hour by hour. The walks we used to go on have shortened, the pace agonizingly slow. At the sound of the leash, Spencer would turn in circles. Now it rouses little to no interest. By yesterday, a walk from the living room to the patio door was all he could muster. I wake to a dog that merely exists, and I wonder each night if the morning silence that will soon come will include the quiet of a life that has passed.
Part of being a pastor is spending time around death. I sometimes visit people who are wasting away, and it makes you so angry with death. As Plantinga so properly puts it, it’s not the way it is supposed to be! And while humans alone are made in the image of God, capable alone of a responsible relationship with God, we share a creatureliness with the beasts; we all were created for life, for energy and bounce. The other night I placed my hands on Spencer’s emaciated body and prayed against whatever this is—a tumor, a cancer, or a corn husk attached to the wall of his stomach. Actually, this is what finally came out two days ago. Maybe this is not the final days of an old dog but the close call of death with a dog that (yet again) got into things he should have never consumed. Spencer has an amazing reach and a quickness to grab things off unattended counters. It is not the first time his appetites have made life an unbearable painful. If this is the case, it will be one of the most expensive tamales we have ever purchased form the Hispanic Fellowship, once the vet bills come in.
But maybe it is the inevitable. I don’t know. I know that putting down dogs is one of the more painful things in life. And with each attachment, you rethink your eschatology. Will I see Spencer again? 43% of Americans think so, but this proves nothing. James Herriot is certain of it. I know this–there will be angels in heaven, as well as humans. And best of all, there will be God. And if Isaiah is literal, there will also be lions and lambs. Will this include dogs, and if so, will they be former companions of ours?
Nothing in Scripture reads of a resurrection for those animals that have lived on this earth. If they are, this may not be such good news for a couple of my dogs, given their particular habits. But who knows—maybe God will breathe life back into some that have pranced this earth. If heaven is a perfect place, a redeemed earth that encompasses the domestic and the wild, the cow feeding with the bear (Isa 11), one can imagine Barnabas one day hanging out with Spencer. It seems that God has made pets to mediate something of His loyalty, goodness, kindness, and love to us in this life. It will not be that big of a surprise to find them there in eternity. Who can speculate on cats? That is a far deeper mystery.