|(Will's dog he used to sleep with at night, hung up to dry...)|
Two nights ago, a stray dog snuck into our yard. It spent the night curled snugly in the mesh seat of Ruby’s umbrella stroller, where James found it in the morning when he went outside to check on his cherry seedlings.
It’s a scrawny scrap of a thing, gray and mangy, hardly more than a puppy, and it had a pointed little face and two of the saddest eyes you’ve ever seen.
I tried not to look at those eyes while we resolutely shooed it out of the yard three times that first day. Then it snuck back in overnight.
James didn't have time to deal with the dog in the yard before work, and sitting at the breakfast table this morning, after James had left and the kids had been excused, I had a fight with my conscience thinking about that mangy dog. I was afraid of worms and fleas and a mysterious dog diseases… I didn’t see any signs of rabies, but then, you never know - can rabies be dormant?
Despite all that, my conscience is still niggling, because after watching yesterday’s drama with getting the dog out of the yard, Ruby said this morning at breakfast, very clearly, “Do-k. B-ed (bread) -kiss, kiss- “ because that was the noise we were making to call it out from under its hiding place. Was she wanting to cuddle the dog? Get rid of it? Was she scared of it? Maybe all of the above, but she sure wasn’t missing any of what was happening.
And then, this morning, as we stood on the steps and watched James trying in vain to lure the dog out from under the petrol tank before leaving for work, Will said, “Mom, it’s just like Giovanni, right?”
(Giovanni being a pathetic orphan character in a Five In A Row book we read this year who begs his bread and sleeps in doorways.)
Great. My six-year-old is comparing this mangy mutt to a human orphan, implying we should give it bread and a bed to sleep in - and isn’t that what the Bible says to do, too? Good grief!
My conscience was more conflicted about this than I felt it ought to be. I begrudged the mental energy spent worrying about what I should do, and resented the “mangy mutt" for taking up valuable brain time. And then, at other, more grace-filled moments, I contemplated feeding it, de-worming it, giving it a bath for fleas, and saw grand visions of gospel grace being enacted in front of my kids - a story they’d remember for the rest of their lives.
“Remember how mom didn’t just throw that awful puppy out on the street, but spent hours looking after it, and it became our favorite pet??”
I have a friend who wouldn’t have thought twice about adopting this dog. She sees it as part of her mission in life to redeem stray animals. They’d only been living in this country a few months and had already added two dogs and two cats to their household, at least one of which had been picked up off the street, spur of the moment.
For her, there would have been no agony of indecision, just, “This is what God wants me to do, show compassion,” and the dog would’ve been in her arms. Aaahh! Compared to her, I feel like a grace-less, compassion-less person. (She would disagree - she would probably say we just show grace in different ways.)
Ok, so then why is this way of showing grace so hard for me? Is it because of the cost? The personal cost to myself? I would have to give up hours of precious time, and money, trekking all around town in a taxi looking for the right medicine, and then administering it in ways I can’t begin to imagine. (I grew up in a family with no pets larger than a hamster, so you can see why I'm squeamish…)
Maybe it’s just selfishness. Maybe it’s that showing grace to this mutt would require too much breaking of my routine, too much upheaval, too much time and sacrifice, and I'm just selfish and I don’t want to give up control of my life, especially for a measly dog. Now, if it were a real baby left on my doorstep, that would be different…
I call James in an agony of indecision, but he doesn’t have the brain-space at the moment to even contemplate the problem. His response is pragmatic: “Well, keep it if you want to, but I grew up on a farm having to dispose of litters of puppies which we couldn’t feed and couldn’t sell… I’m afraid I can be pretty matter-of-fact about these sorts of things…”
Reason intrudes, and I realize the dog could possibly bite one of the kids, or worse, and I truly don’t know what kinds of diseases it has. I’m pretty sure they don’t sell worm medicine or flea powder in our puny town, and I don’t have the means or the time or enough Russian to go hunting around the bigger town 15 minutes down the road for medicine for a stray…
So now I flop to the other extreme and decide it’s the most disgusting creature I’ve ever laid eyes on, and we have to get rid of it as soon as humanly possible.
The dog is somehow getting into our yard, so when my helper arrives I enlist her in hunting for the hole, and we find it outside our fence and stop it up with huge rocks. She dons a pair of old gardening gloves and a scrap of bread, and I grab a big stick, and we shoo the dog out from under the huge petrol tank in our yard which the boys use as a pirate ship. It had quickly become his favorite hiding place since the tank’s belly hangs very low to the ground; he must’ve felt safe underneath.
He yips and whines pathetically (Ruby and the boys watching the whole time - can’t get them to go inside!) as my helper and a neighbor boy carry him several hundred yards down the canal and turn him loose (notice how I wriggled out of actually getting my hands dirty).
My heart cringes at his whines, but I harden it successfully and we all high-tail it back to our yard and shut the gate.
He comes back, of course, and skulks around outside our fence for a few hours, but I figure as long as he can’t get through the hole he’ll eventually look elsewhere for food.
Then, a few hours later, after a bike ride, the boys accidentally leave the gate open. Like a flash, the dog takes his chance and darts back into the yard and under his favorite hiding place.
Now I was just plain mad.
I had to leave him there, reluctantly, while I made lunch and fed the kids, but after lunch I immediately enlisted a gang of neighbor boys who appeared at our gate wanting to play.
We re-enacted this morning’s scene: me pushing the dog out from under the tank with a stick, and a bigger boy donning the gloves and grabbing him, yelping, on the other side. You would have thought we were tearing his legs off, the noise he made.
Ruby, watching, was very distressed, and kept whimpering, “Do-k! Do-k! B-ed!”
As in, “That’s a real live animal making that sound and all it wants is some food!”
I swing her up to my hip and tell the neighbor kids to take it far, far away. Well, they’re back in two seconds, and when I asked them where they threw it, they point at an empty manhole 20 yards away which - I thought - leads to the main water pipe for our town!
I freak out, envisioning a rotting dog contaminating the whole town’s water supply, and race towards the manhole with Ruby bouncing on my hip. The cover is off and a long tree branch has been stuck in it; the bottom is full of rubbish already.
I see all this while the boys eagerly inform me this manhole was for the old system of water pipes which had recently been turned off. I find this information dizzying, since I’d seen a crew with my own eyes installing that manhole just last summer (so how could it be old?) and I was pretty sure I’d heard water flowing under through it on one of my recent morning runs...
But there's the tree branch and rubbish to prove their story, and I’m in such a rush to get rid of that awful dog, I nod and say, “All right then,” and we all troop back to our gate.
And now it’s the afternoon, and I’m sitting here writing this, thinking about horrible empty cisterns and a helpless puppy who’s never really done anything to me, except whine and look pathetic… and the fact that even throughout this whole post I’ve picked words like “mangy mutt” and “skulk” to describe him. I’m trying to imagine if I’d feel any different about him if I’d used words like “poor little thing” and “thin, starving, helpless”.
I’m thinking about grace, and how hard it is to give and receive.
I'm thinking about the fact that Ruby woke up from her nap sobbing her eyes out, and when I went into her room she was sitting in a corner of her crib, crying, “Do-k! Do-k!” over and over. I was sure she’d had a nightmare about that ridiculous dog, and I don't know if it was because she was afraid of the dog, or just sad and traumatized by the awful yelps it made as it was dragged out?
Have I scarred my child for life? I think miserably, as I lay down on our bed with her and make soothing noises while I stroke her arms. She’s soon fast asleep again, limbs splayed out, flushed cheeks, sweaty hair plastered to her forehead. I look at her sweetness, and…
I still don’t know if I did the right thing. Ok, I probably didn't. Feeling worse about it all the time...
Now, at 9:30pm, after hearing her say “Do-k? Do-k?” twice at dinner (to Daddy), twice more during her bath, again during teeth-brushing, again during story reading (every story we picked seemed to have a dog in it somewhere!) - each time accompanied with a squinched-up face and arms clutched to her chest, whether in sympathetic pain or a mother-cuddle-instinct, I couldn’t tell -
I finally decide she is definitely getting a complex, and pray accordingly:
“Dear Jesus, please give Ruby peace about the dog. Please help her know You’re looking after it (in the cruel cistern!). Please don’t let her have any bad dreams tonight (about her mother’s abuse of stray animals!), and please help her not to think about the dog anymore!”
She quieted down and laid calmly in her bed, but I'm wondering how many more days of “Do-k? Do-k?” I will have to endure before she forgets about it?
If you were me, how would you teach your children that God values all life in a context where life is so undervalued?
P.S. Tomorrow I plan to have a heart-to-heart with my boys, and discuss the fact that it's a terrible thing to be mean to anything God has made, and that God of course doesn't like it... and that maybe we can keep some supplies on hand at our house in case this kind of situation happens again.... any other suggestions?
P.P.S. I've found myself wishing whole-heartedly that we lived near a really good vet, so I could have just scooped that dog into the car and gotten it de-wormed and vaccinated, and we probably would've kept it. There's just no such thing in these parts, which is what makes this whole thing so difficult.
P.P.P.S. In case you're wondering, I did NOT sanction those boys to throw that dog down into that cistern, and after they did it, I felt even sicker - but I just had no idea what to do. I still don't.