A Courteous Contrararian

Theology and Praxis In The Canine Population

Written By: Jon Jaroszewski - Mar• 31•15

Don’t let the title of the post scare you. I want to talk about the way my dog acts.

First a disclaimer: I don’t actually know for sure if any of my dogs have held to any specific theologies. I can’t claim to know what they think or believe. But based on long observation of their actions, I suspect they don’t, with two possible exceptions. The second first – they all may indeed have subscribed to a particularly canine form of Zen Buddism. They are happy to be in the moment. And as a matter of fact, they have all become agitated when they are pulled out of the moment by anticipation, as when they are promised a treat or asked if they would like to go for a walk or a ride in the car.  Because of this, i think they do not practice Zen  at the level of the average cat, but they remain better at it than most humans. The first exception will come later in this learned dissertation.

I have been the “master” of three dogs in my adult life; Love, Fate, and Ellie.  I tried to call Fate Faith, but it wouldn’t stick. If it had, we would have had to name Ellie differently. We would have had to name her Hope. Love, Faith  and Hope. They were all female mutts, which I believe are the best dogs.

Love was first, and the finest of any dog I have ever known; the greatest of these is Love. The greatness of Love was not just my opinion. Many of my friends have said the same thing. She was smart, sensitive and gentle.

She taught me how to walk her. At the time we lived together, it was in a bad neighborhood of the city. Since she was so smart and sensitive, I preferred to walk her without a leash. I had no worries that she would run off or become aggressive with strangers. But I hated calling to her, especially in a dark alley with gangbangers present. Yelling “Love!” just didn’t sound like the type of impression I wanted to give to those fine young men.

So Love taught me to use whistle commands. Once, while sharing that alley, I whistled instead of calling to her and she came running back to me as if this were some sort of prearranged signal we had always used. She taught me to use short, quiet whistles to get her to change direction and louder, more sustained whistles to call her back to me. Because she always responded, I was able to trust her enough to give her her head. She could wander and smell poop and do all those things dogs like to do, and do them in complete freedom, because I never worried that she would scare little children or run into traffic.

Fate was a definite step down in the obedience department. She was rarely content to let my will be done. She pulled against me on her leash as if I were her worst enemy. So much so that by time we were half way through her walk, her breath would be ragged and noisy because of the strain. I was told that this is because dogs are appositional; they by nature pull back against the leash if they feel tension on it.

The only exception to her unruliness were when we came to a street. She had learned she needed to sit and wait for me to give her a command before we would begin to cross. Because she would follow this command, and this command only, I was able to unleash her halfway through her walk when we came to her favorite alley. By this time I had moved to the suburbs and alleys were more scarce. By the time we got to the alley, she was exhausted from her appostional straining and content to stay within the alley’s confines.

Ellie, our present dog, is a horse of a different color, so to speak. She is as appostional as Fate was, right down to the ragged insistence on pulling against the leash no matter what, but she also refuses to obey any command I give her under any circumstances. She is smart and sensitive, but not so much as Love, so I know she understands my commands, but she is pathologically unable to obey them when we are taking a walk. If I have let her leash out and call to her so I can reel her in because I foresee a situation with strangers or traffic, she is unable to come back to me. the best she is capable of, if I am particularly loud and strident, is to sit and wait for me to catch up to her. So I tend to keep her on a short leash. The only times she is fully compliant is when she knows there is something in it for her. She can do any number of tricks but she will generally only do them if she knows a treat is available. She can sit quietly at my feet but only to make it easier for me to attach her leash if she realizes a walk or car ride is imminent.

There is a great theological lesson in all of this. Think about it. All the dogs enjoyed walks. All of the walks were essentially the same; a circuit from my front door back to my front door. Yet they experienced far different walks depending on their obedience. Ellie is generally on a short leash. Fate had a longer leash and a period of (for her) exhilarating freedom once we reached the alley. And Love was totally free to be a dog from start to finish; no leash.

I think this is how we must seem to God. He uses circumstances rather than a leash, but to the same effect. The more we show ourselves willing to yield to his will for us, the fewer doors he closes, the more he unleashes us.

It is a matter of trust. Not so much his trust in us, like with me and the dogs. It is a matter of our trust in him. We, like my dogs, all walk the same circuituous path in life from birth to death. But how we respond, how we trust, determines the quality of our experience and the freedom of our “walk.”

More about that first exception I promised, the theology of dogs, next time.

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