After remarking on the two-a-penny, rock bottom market price of a couple of sparrows, Jesus added that ‘not a single’ one of them ‘can fall to the ground’ apart from the comforting care of their Creator, ‘your Father.’ ‘So,’ he assured his followers, ‘don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than many sparrows’ (see Matthew 10:29-31). But, having just said farewell to our Georgie, I have been interested to know how the Bible views dogs.
In fact, some biblical dogs would roam wild; others appear to have been trained for work, or just to be enjoyed as domestic pets.
(a) Street dogs gang up to survive
King David complained, ‘My enemies surround me like a pack of dogs.’ Therefore he prayed, ‘Spare my precious life from these dogs’ (Psalm 16a, 20b, New Living Translation). His son Solomon declared a person ‘a fool’ if he ‘repeats his foolishness . . . as a dog returns to his vomit’ (Proverbs 25:1; 26:11, NLT). And Moses referred to male homosexual prostitutes as dogs (whose anal intercourse visually resembles canine copulating): ‘You shall not bring the fee of a [female] prostitute or the wages of a dog into the house of the Lord your God in payment for any vow, for both of these are an abomination to the Lord your God’ (Deuteronomy 23:18, English Standard Version; compare Revelation 22:15). And Paul employed the same metaphor for religious teachers who insisted that all non-Jewish converts be physically circumcised: ‘Watch out for those dogs . . . those mutilators who say you must be circumcised to be saved’ (Philippians 3:2).
(b) Sheepdogs are trained to guard and to guide the flock
Job mentioned ‘my sheepdogs’ that would ‘run’ around his flock to guard and guide them (Job 30:1).
(c) Pet dogs gladden their owners’ lives
‘It is not right,’ said Jesus, ‘to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs’ (Matthew 15:26, the Greek term is a diminutive meaning ‘doggies’ or ‘little dogs’). Like our ‘heavenly Father’ in his care of ‘the birds of the air’, ‘a good man takes care of the needs of his pets’ (Proverbs 12:10a, The Passion Translation).
Our pet doggy, Georgie
‘Please take me home’
Our teenaged grand-daughter Kirsty, being internet savvy, tracked down various Westies for sale. West Highland White Terriers being a popular breed, every one was already sold before we dialled the vendors. But after a few weeks without success we discovered that several were on offer within an hour’s drive from us, at the very end of August 2011. One of them raised her lovely large ears, fixed her warm gaze on us from her cage, and lifted a paw majestically as if to greet us, And in unison we voiced our choice: ‘That’s the one’. As we paid for her and for several accessories, a boisterous young lad confirmed our choice as he confided, ‘Mummy, that’s the one we wanted, isn’t it?’ The quiet domain of a couple of pensioners was surely a preferred option to a possible hectic home life from which we were rescuing her.
We were told, ‘There is no record of her birth. We think that she is about five or six years of age; and she has been used for breeding. She’s called Georgia but, since she doesn’t know that, you can rename her if you wish.’ Kirsty nursed away her nervous trembling during our car journey by snuggling her with calm affection, as we agreed she would still be called Georgie (and Georgia on special occasions).
Many months of hide and seek
At our local veterinary practice she was declared healthy, apart from compacted wax in both her ears that only gradually softened during her early weeks with us.
During the first eighteen months of her domestication she would sneak away to hide behind our settee whenever we were entertaining visitors – even Kirsty. And she was fazed by pedestrians when we tried to take her for walks on a lead in local streets. But she got to enjoy car trips to the open spaces of our nearby beach and woods and public parks for exploratory, leash-free ‘sniffathons’. Gradually she underwent a complete change of mind and started to demand attention from all visitors, and even any strangers whom we encountered on her daily walks with me, pausing to be stroked and have her ears gently fondled.
The docile mime artist
She only ever barked a few times a year – always in our enclosed back garden if she thought some intruder dared to bark in our neighbourhood!
She invented her own little games on those outings. After sniffing patches of seaweed or various tree trunks as I walked resolutely ahead, she would utter a gentle noise to get my attention, pretend to ignore me when I turned round to look at her, then she’d sprint up to hear me declare her ‘The Winner!’ This she would love to repeat until some other interest distracted her.
At home she would snuffle at the bottom of the closed lounge door to let us know she wished to go to the garden to relieve herself, or get a drink from her dish of water, or have an early lunch from her food bowl in our laundry room.
In her final year she developed incurable pulmonary fibrosis that caused her no pain but required her to take shallow breaths if she exerted herself. So she would frequently intersperse her outdoor exercise with pauses to gaze around to admire the near and distant environment.
A timely and dignified departure
She disturbed our slumber around three o’clock on a Saturday morning. Her breathing had become much more of a shallow struggle. The veterinary surgery would close for the weekend and Christmas was three days away. We were offered their one free slot at 11.15 and our family was able to join us for the previous half hour; they saw her sad condition as shamefully she soiled our carpets uncharacteristically. My son-in-law accompanied us to the vet’s. On arrival a stethoscope examination recorded a heartbeat, but after the vet carried her a few paces to the examination table that had ceased. This clever old girl of Scottish ancestry thus saved her Scottish master a costly treatment fee!
As a family, through our tears, we agreed that in her hour of departure she had been demonstrably nestled in the caring bosom of our ‘Father’. Praise be!