Three tricks my dog taught me

When I was a boy, we always seemed to have a dog around the house. Our first was Inky, a small black terrier who liked to surprise people. Folks who strolled by our house late at night, gazing upwards, admiring the Northern Lights, had no idea how fast they could run until Inky showed them. Inky brought out the best in people. Made them yell their loudest, run their fastest, and write the most articulate letters to my parents. So Dad sold Inky to a glue factory and brought home Lady, an Irish Setter who drooled like a bad tap. Lady helped me get ready for school each morning. She could wash my face in two seconds flat.

One Sunday we came home from church to discover that she had eaten the soles from our shoes. Or at least one from each pair. The preacher had talked of patience that morning, and how tribulation helped it work, but I don’t think Dad was listening. He gave Lady away that very afternoon, and within a week she gave birth to twelve puppies. I kid you not. I spent that summer asking for one of them. I also spent it barefoot. Except for Sundays.

In fifth grade I fell in love with the perfect companion—Mojo, a gentle Heinz 57, with a black mask on her face and enough charm to win over the most hardened cat lover (Phil is pictured with Mojo III). In high school I was involved in a Communications Class debate called “The Ideal Pet: Cats or Dogs?” and as I pointed out that God created cats to show that not everything on earth has a purpose, a friend brought Mojo through the door on cue. She skidded my way on the linoleum, licked my face and refused to leave my side. Within minutes the entire class was filing by, petting her and saying nice things. I won the debate that day, paws down. (Note to cat lovers: comments to Phil can be addressed to General Delivery, Gnome, Alaska).

            Since our children were very small, I’ve been telling them tales of Mojo. Of her undying devotion, of teaching her to sit and shake. Just after they learned to say “Mama,” they began begging for a “Mojo.” Two months ago, we finally brought home the cutest little dog this side of Benji.

“What shall we call him?” I asked. “How about Puddles?” said my wife. But the kids wouldn’t hear of it. There was only one choice: Mojo. Within a week they taught her to sit, to lay down, and to shake with the wrong paw. And she has begun to teach us a few tricks, too. Here are just three of them.

1. Stay away from the rocking chair. Sometimes at night, with Mojo at my feet, I read the newspaper and find myself talking out loud. I say things like, “I wonder if our power will go out when Y2K hits,” and she’s thinking, “I wonder if he’s gonna give me a lick of that ice cream cone.” “I’m really concerned about the situation in the Middle East,” I say, and she’s thinking, “I sure wish he’d put down the paper and open up a can of tuna.” A good dog knows that newspapers are useful for certain things, but that worry is like a rocking chair. It gives you something to do, but it doesn’t take you anywhere.

2. Wag the right thing. I once asked a girl, who was voted most popular girl in her entire high school, about her secret. She said, “I listen.” From an early age her father had told her, “Everyone on earth is at least just a little bit lonely.” An old Spanish proverb says, “Two great talkers will not walk far together.” A dog has so many friends because he wags his tail, not his tongue.

3. Keep your head up. When Stephen came through the front door yesterday, I could tell what kind of day he’d had. A well-deserved detention had ruined tomorrow’s plans. His volleyball score had plummeted and his math marks weren’t adding up. But Mojo didn’t mind. She met him at the door with her tongue ready. She ran in circles, leaping in the air and licking his face as if it were aging cheese. Mojo didn’t care where he’d been or what he’d done. She didn’t care what anyone thought or what anyone said. She just loved him.

We all need such love, don’t we? When life doesn’t make sense, when others turn their backs, we need a forceful reminder that there’s One who will never leave our side. One who loves us unconditionally, faithful to the end. As Stephen stood to his feet, a bright smile lit up his face. And I couldn’t help thinking that even a furry little creature can reflects its Creator with undying love and devotion that gives us bright hope and every reason to carry on.

I need some of that love right now. You see, my wife is calling. It seems Mojo II just discovered the sole of one of my Sunday shoes.

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