Thursday, September 27, 2007
Our animal friends are a special gift from God
Well now, it can be told: your preacher has found a female on the internet! Everybody else is doing it, so why shouldn’t I?
Let me hasten to explain that the nice lady I have taken into my home is the energetic little toy fox terrier whose photo accompanies this column. “Gracey” came into my life last February, and has become a great blessing to me and friend to all who know her.
Some of you will recall that I had two of these terriers for a very long while. Actually, my “Skipper” who passed away at age 18 last Christmas was a rat terrier, and “Lady” who preceded him in death last May 23 at age 15, was a toy fox. Only a purist can tell the difference, but the main distinction has to do with the instinct to retrieve, which seems to have been pretty well bred out of the toy variety of these dogs.
I have had a fondness for toy fox/rat terriers since I was a little boy and played with my Sunday school teacher, Mr. Carlton Ashford’s lively pair. My first, whom I named Skipper (there have been five Skippers in my family — it is just what we call a male dog of this variety), was given me by another Sunday school teacher, Mrs. Ann Ross, who lived out in the country on the east side of Cleveland, my home town.
As you can see dogs and Sunday school are closely associated in my mind. And that is where the origin of my Lady dog’s name arises. Some years ago the Presbyterians at Brownsville, Tenn., had a wonderful minister named Dr. Elbert Williamson. Dr. Williamson was famous for his little dog Lady, who went with him on all his pastoral calls.
Lady would wait faithfully on the front porch while Dr. Williamson went inside to visit his members and pray with the sick. In that era before cell phones and pagers, people could find where Dr. Williamson was just by looking to see whose porch steps Lady was sitting patiently upon. I resolved that when I became a minister I wanted to have a dog as loyal and helpful to my work as Dr. Williamson’s Lady had been.
Unfortunately neither the Skipper or Lady who shared my home in Holly Springs filled that bill. They were much too excitable and could not be trusted to have sat still if left outside unattended. In fact, my colleague Don Wilson of Byhalia once remarked that he thought my Skipper was directly wired to the doorbell, because as soon as Don pressed the button Skipper went into uncontrollable conniptions!
All who came to see me over those 18 years could attest to the fact. Finally, though, Skipper became too feeble to arouse himself when someone came to the door. That was when I knew he was nearing the end of his row.
Gracey, however, has proved herself a gentle soul. The ladies circle met at my house last spring, and even the most reluctant among the ladies had to admit that she behaved perfectly. She hopped up by Virginia Lesley (a great dog aficionado if ever there was one) and lay quietly until the lesson was completed.
I say I met her on the internet because I had determined to acquire my next dog from an animal shelter. I visited the various shelters in our vicinity, but found no terriers of the sort I wanted to adopt. Then, I looked online and found that the Corinth-Alcorn County Animal Shelter had a webpage with photos of cats and canines up for adoption. I suspected it was an old set of pictures, just to illustrate the sort of animals they typically had — but when I drove over there, there she was, just as pictured on their webpage!
So the necessary arrangements were made, and the next Sunday after church, I drove over to pick her up. (I have seldom preached a shorter sermon.) This week I am going to drive back to Corinth to give them a donation and show her off to the workers at the shelter — just so they can see that they can see the result of a happy adoption experience (volunteers at animal shelters must wonder what becomes of the animals they care for so lovingly.).
There are good shelters and dedicated staffs in almost every community now. Support your own if you can. In the meantime, we’ll have our annual service for the Blessing of the Animals on the Feast Day of St. Francis the first Sunday in October at Christ Episcopal Church if you care to join us and say thanks to God for making such wonderful creatures to share our hearts and homes.
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