Two stray dogs came through my home last year. They looked almost identical; they even acted the same, nibbling my fingers while I walked and guarding me with all they had. The first stayed almost a year; the second, only a day. I wish I could’ve done a lot more for both, because they were used mightily in my life. They taught me to give when I thought I had nothing to offer.
When a couple of terriers arrived in the neighborhood shortly after the second was lost, I was bitter. I now realize it was a test. Would I give to someone in need, not someone I wanted? The tousled, white pooch with the over-long tail in my driveway was nearly starved and very frightened. The other one stayed in the street. My first response was to turn away – my parents thoroughly drummed into my head that if you feed a stray, he’ll never leave. I would not care for another animal.
“Silver and gold have I none, but such as I have, give I thee,” Peter had said to the lame man asking for alms when he and John went to pray. It is one of our favorite scripture songs. Would I put my actions where my mouth was? I had used up all my resources nursing a snake-bitten cat, bottle-feeding puppies, and doctoring goats. I really could not take responsibility for another dog. But she was going to die imminently if she didn’t get something, and I couldn’t live with that.
I gave her two chili-cheese dogs that had been forgotten in the fridge for a week and a bowl of water, which she made short work of. I prayed that she would revive to find a good home elsewhere. I had become so jaded over the last several years of doing all I could and watching animals succumb anyway. Amazingly, she did find a good home, although I’ve never seen her brother again.
It doesn’t take a huge outlay to provide another chance for someone in need.
And the need is great. Our neighborhood, apparently, is a drop zone for unwanted mutts. But it is no safe haven in which to learn practical independence. It saddens me to watch domesticated dogs try to learn how to find and hunt a bunny in the dead of winter in an unfamiliar area before starving to death or becoming prey themselves. Coyotes are hungry, and farmers protect their flocks vigilantly. They must find someone to take them in and care for them. Three families came out to offer help to the handsome Siberian Husky with the pellet in his hip. For those awkward young terriers, though, the going was tough. There were no vacancies.
And isn’t this so like our own lives sometimes? Everything seems to be going just fine until one day we go for a ride in the country and end up stranded with no hope of ever returning to the life we once knew. It seems only the tough and lucky survive. Except I personally think ‘luck’ is a catch-all term to describe the workings of God’s hand. My sweet Penny escaped a pack of really aggressive dogs which had left her malnourished with a hole through her leg and her undersides so scarred she had no working nipples. Poisoned steak appeared in the street shortly after I’d taken her in, and all the brutes were gone by afternoon. Why was she spared? God used her to show me that love doesn’t take any store of personal resources to give away.
I have always wanted to train my children in generosity and hospitality to the poor and homeless. I was just too afraid to open my doors to the risk that entails. But that didn’t relieve me of my duty as a Christian to care for the needy and teach my children to do the same. Then, as my own challenges mounted, I thought I didn’t have enough to be generous. But God still asked me to give – to those in trouble, who really don’t care what I look like, as long as their needs are met. And these show up on my doorstep in droves. Is it any less a mission field because I’m serving dogs? I think not.
Each one bids me think how I’d like to be treated if I were homeless. How far will I go to be the Good Samaritan? I am charged with caring for my family first, of course, but doesn’t God also ask us to go out on a limb for Him, trusting faithfully for the outcome? What is it worth to me to spare a poor, scared animal getting hit by a speeding car at night, or its litter of pups run over by a tractor in the field? And teach my children to have compassion in the process? I can’t afford to feed, neuter, or help them all. There’s just too much need. But I can give this one the leftover heel of overcooked steak or a cool drink of water.
And I have found that the paybacks for this are great. My own heart has expanded as I have found corners of compassion that I thought were long ago shut off. As my heart softens to these animals in need, I find myself realizing just how needy – and yet how blessed – I am. Every one of us has been abandoned or left in the cold somehow. The difference between the ones who make it and the ones who don’t is in how they approach life. Scrappers eventually get eaten, but lovers eventually find love. Scripture often tells us to look to animals for wisdom. Dogs can show us all too clearly what devotion to our Master is all about. They will give their last ounce in devotion to their owners, regardless of what they receive or how it’s given.
So now I must face facts. How devoted am I to my Lord? Will I guard His Name with my life? Am I content with whatever my Master gives me? Will I give to another what He has so freely given me? And will I trust that I will still be provided for if I give my food bowl away?
My beloved Bear came to us when my son had been terrorized by dogs. He feared them to his young core. He didn’t dare approach the big beast that all the other kids were flocking around. But Bear looked at him – and didn’t threaten him. We adopted the dog immediately, and he became part of our family for the next 11 years. David is now a very compassionate young man and animal lover because a dog took the time to nurture him in love and trust. Can I do that for another human?