The New Dog
By Pastor Tom Anderson
On late summer mornings the fog shrouds Highland Elementary. The tall grass is besotted in cold dew. It’s an inviting prairie to flocks of Canada geese with their incessant honking. The sandhills love it too. Their preternatural squawking frightens little black puppies who dare to venture into the field.
When uncertain, Pepper looks back at me for direction. I stand and silently await her decision. She sits and watches the birds attentively. What must she think? Giant creatures with rapier beaks on two legs appear fearsome. The cranes are non-plused. Pepper gives them wide berth as we march across the prairie to the wood.
These days my pockets are always filled with dog treats. Let me know if you’d like to try one. If there is one thing to make me smile, it’s a black puppy racing at me. Her pink tongue flapping like a flag in the breeze. She stops. She sits. She looks to me for her treat. I love dogs.
This year’s crop of mosquitoes has been amazing. The forest paths are lousy with them. Wear a long-sleeve shirt. Put on a hat. Always keep hiking, don’t stop. Pepper runs a head of me taking in the smells. Once she got out of my sight. I dove behind a tree and called her name. I waited in silence. I heard little paw prints scrambling down the trail. She stopped but didn’t see me. She listened and found me with her ears. Was it my breathing? The rustle of a leaf? Amazing. This little game taught her in one lesson to never get out of sight again.
We came to it. The hill where Tyler’s collar is buried at the base of a giant hickory. No two dogs are the same. Pepper is cutting her own path through this world. Her prints covered the places where my tears fell last October. There is great solace in a puppy sleeping on your lap.
One thing the two share is a love for water. Pepper’s first encounter with a pond was at 9 weeks. She waltzed in and swam without any lessons. Her canoe training has so far always begun with a dive overboard. Once soaked, she’s ready to ride. She eschews the leisurely paddling, preferring instead to zoom like a pinball bow to stern. I’m not certain what will happen when I eventually break out a fishing rod. Then there’s the matter of lifting a big bass into the canoe. We’re not there yet.
She is beautiful, like a piece of jet-black obsidian. I lose her quickly in the dark. She disappears into closets, dark carpets and shadows. Her coat is silken and sleek like living ebony.
Puppies are mentioned just once in the Gospels. A desperate mother of a demon-possessed child threw this line at Jesus, “…Lord, even the little dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” (Matthew 15:27) The determined faith of her rejoinder unlocked the mercy of our Lord. Anytime in the gospel someone asks Jesus for mercy, they always get it. Like puppies we must admit that we do not deserve to sit at our Lord’s table, but His mercy is still our only hope in life. Those who seek mercy will find it.
Some years ago, in northern Israel a pre-historic grave was unearthed. Alongside the human skeleton was found the skeleton of a puppy. It’s a story estimated to be 12,000 years old. Some things never change.