Title: All Creatures Here Below
The New Yorker had a picture on its cover in February 1968 of a group of people looking at sleeping puppies in a
pet shop window. Every face was alight, and the women, of course, were tapping on the glass, trying to elicit
some response from the fetching little beagles in the pen.
What is it we see in the faces of puppies? What else in the whole world instantly softens the expressions of the
hardest people as does the sight of a little puppy trotting gaily along the sidewalk? Is there something eternal,
some intimation of unutterable sweetness there which we know will be gone in a matter of weeks? We want to get
our hands on the softness; we crave response. People who would not dream of addressing a stranger on the street will address a puppy and then often, as though they cannot help themselves, the owner of the puppy as well.
Some years ago my husband and I bought a tiny purebred Scottish terrier. He had a box-shaped body on which black fur grew in the shape of a horse blanket, shaggy and shiny. He had another smaller box for a head, with jaunty chin whiskers, wonderfully bright black eyes and a glistening black nose. His ears pointed sharply, and he moved them up, sideways and back--he could even revolve them--depending on whether he was looking, listening or waiting hopefully to be petted. His tail was a little cone in almost constant motion. His feet were like short flanges at the ends of his unbelievably short legs. His legs were, in fact, just barely long enough to keep his chin off the floor.
The dog's name was MacPhearce. He had a terrier's feistiness and could bark sharply or growl like a tenor
gargling, but was putting on an act ("Is he trained to kill on command?" a man on the street asked), for he was
really very affectionate and badly wanted friends.
I put a blue collar on him and took him out on a blue leash. (He did not, however, wear a plaid coat or rubbers. It seemed logical to me that the coat he came with was designed for his needs.) People would catch a glimpse of him and stop in their tracks. "Look at this dog!" they would say, if they had anyone with them to say it to, or, "Isn't he adorable?" they would say to me. People under forty often said, "What kind of dog is that?" and people over forty said, "Oh, a Scotty! You don't see many of them anymore!" MacPhearce was not aware that he had gone out of style. He had been succeeded by Boston terriers, then by poodles and boxers and Lhasa apsos. But it never bothered him much, and he behaved as though he was exactly what he was meant to be, which is more than can be said of some human beings. One said, "Ooohhh--I can't stand it, he's so cute!"
I wonder if God felt anything like that on the day he created such creatures. "It is very good" is what he is
reported to have said, and I suppose we cannot expect the Almighty to have been thrilled, or even impressed. It was exactly what he had meant. The animal was the living proof of the divine idea.
MacPhearce was not a sinner, theologically speaking, and therefore fulfilled God's intention for him every moment of his life. My husband wrote years ago about a dog he had named Lassie. He believed that she had been "assigned" to him. It was her business to keep him happy, and perhaps of all the marvelous things dogs do for man (herding sheep, retrieving birds, pulling sleds, leading the blind, rescuing the freezing or the drowning), none is more marvelous than this: they are comforters and companions. They think always of their master. What is he doing? Can I accompany him? Is he happy? How can I cheer him?
A woman I know found her teen-age daughter lying on the living room rug one evening, sobbing into the curly fur of their cocker spaniel. The mother had on many occasions wondered if the dog was worth all the fuss and trouble of training, feeding, cleaning fur off the rugs and furniture. She stopped wondering when she saw that the dog was a refuge and a friend to the child when she would have found it impossible to cry on anyone's shoulder. The mother made up her mind then and there that as long as she had children, at least, she would have a dog. (She has since decided that even she needs him.)
My old friend Dorothy who lives on the Cape has had dachshunds, terriers, poodles and a Scotty. "Oh my, they give so much," she says, "and they ask so little!"
C. S. Lewis had some lovely things to say about animals in his Letters to an American Lady. "I will never laugh at anyone for grieving over a loved beast. I think God wants us to love Him more, not to love creatures (even animals) less. No person, animal, flower, or even pebble, has ever been loved too much--i.e., more than every one of God's works deserves."
In another letter he wrote, "We were talking about cats and dogs the other day and decided that both have
consciences but the dog, being an honest, humble person, always has a bad one, but the cat is a Pharisee and
always has a good one. When he sits and stares you out of countenance he is thanking God that he is not as these dogs, or these humans, or even as these other cats!"
A dog can gaze with adoration and not be embarrassed, but if he finds himself gazed at by a group not entirely
sympathetic, he seems to know this and will often busy himself with licking a paw, or will perhaps decide that he has business elsewhere. He accepts himself for what he is, and us human beings for whatever we may be, and thus teaches us a lesson in the grace of acceptance. Dogs can adapt themselves to whatever treatment we may dish out. If we step on a tail by accident its owner may yelp but will be wagging it at once in forgiveness. A dog's eyes may be filled with reproach if we have left him alone too long, if we go out in the car and tell him to stay, or if his dinner is late, but the reproach is gentle and loving, and he will come and lay his head in our lap seventy times seven.
A truck went by the house the other day labeled Old Mother Hubbard Oven-Baked Dog Foods and Laboratory Diets. The pet food business is an enormous and lucrative one. Any pet shop displays a staggering variety of feeding dishes, foods, toys, medicines, shampoos, flea soaps and powders, beds, baskets, carrying cases, cages, leashes, collars--some of them rhinestone-studded--and garments, including galoshes and raincoats for poodles. We insult our pets by not allowing them to be animals. We violate their being when we try to make them human.
"Love the pride of your dogs," wrote Isak Dinesen. "Let them not grow fat." Put not on them outrageous frippery, I would add. Pamper them not with furniture and food luxurious for people but indecent for animals. Recognize what they are, love them for that, let them love you because you love them for what they are and not because you have made of them a poor facsimile of yourself.
George MacDonald, the Scottish preacher and novelist of the nineteenth century, believed that "dogs always behold the face of the Father." To study a dog's face will make you wonder about the redemption of all creation. Do dogs have souls? We have no clue to that in Scripture. We are told, however, that "everything that exists in heaven or earth shall find its perfection and fulfillment in Christ."
A lady once asked Dr. Harry Ironside of Moody Church in Chicago about the salvation of dogs. She was heartbroken over the death of her little white dog, and was not sure she would be able to enjoy heaven at all if he was not going to be there. "Madam," replied Dr. Ironside, "if when you get to heaven you want your little white dog, I can assure you that he will be there."
What the "perfection and fulfillment" of little white dogs or little black puppies named MacPhearce may mean is not, for us at any rate, a very important question. But it may remind us of unspeakably important questions.
Responsibility to our Creator. Obedience to his call. Fulfillment of his purpose for us as men and women who have been given the mandate to take care of the earth. Then we can join with all creatures great and small, and even with the stars of the firmament of which Joseph Addison wrote in 1712:
In reason's ear they all rejoice and utter forth a glorious voice: Forever singing as they shine, "The hand that
made us is divine."
Copyright 1979, by Elisabeth Elliot
all rights reserved.
Have a blessed week, furiends!