The dog and imperfect loyalty
By JIM NICHOLS
Several mornings we pass each other, sometimes multiple times. I am in my running shoes, shirt, and shorts. The man is driving a white vehicle and the dog is running alongside or behind.
This may irritate some of you, but I am not a dog person. This probably started when I was in junior high and had a paper route. This was a route of some 500 houses, and I walked block after block delivering a weekly that contained a few stories and many advertisements. I was such a good delivery boy that I won a prize one time—a badminton set. I thought that was a good prize for a fourteen-year old.
The negative consequence of the paper route, however, was dogs harassing me. This was before the days of leash laws, so the dogs had free reign to bother delivery people. Just ask the mail delivery folks.
Even now as a runner, dogs sometimes take after me and it unnerves me. Occasionally they try to bite, but most often just get in the way and trip me. Recently, a dog started after me barking and its master called it (“He won’t bite,” they always say) and the dog retreated. The next day I saw the same dog coming after me and it had a Frisbee in its mouth; it just wanted to play.
As a biologist, I like all forms of life (except for scorpions and wasps). That means I also like dogs; I am just not a real dog person.
We even had a dog when our children were in the house and we all (even me) loved Sally. She had several good qualities, but she had more negatives as far as I was concerned.
One clearly positive quality of many dogs, however, is their loyalty to their masters. Many books and movies focus on the faithfulness of a dog to the humans who care for it. I believe it is truly an admirable characteristic. It is nearly theological.
The morning pattern I have observed is that the white SUV drives about 10 mph through our residential area and the dog (I think a Golden Doodle) runs along with the vehicle. At first thought, I believed this was dangerous for the dog. Now it appears to be carefully planned and executed by both parties.
The dog is not just trotting along; it is galloping about as fast as it can, I suspect. Its ears are flying back like in cartoons. When the SUV begins to pull too far ahead, the driver clearly slows and allows the dog to close in. At times, the dog is behind the vehicle and at other times to either the right or left. It is running closely enough to the car that I doubt whether the driver always knows exactly where it is. It causes me to worry for the dog, but I have seen no close calls. My assumption is that this is the way the master is exercising his dog.
Most of the time, the dog is racing along with the SUV, but it does get distracted occasionally. Here comes a bush that apparently needs watering. I have seen the car stop and the master go to a nearby yard to pick up dog droppings. Other neighborhood dogs bark. When that happens, sometimes the racing dog will divert from the car and go the fence to see who is barking. Since the car generally continues moving, this means the racing dog must leave the fence and dash to catch up. Sometimes, the diversion lasts so long that the driver goes all the way around the block and comes back to the same spot and the dog re-joins. It is quite amazing.
For unknown reasons, my father used to love the old advertising photograph used by RCA Victor. It shows a dog sitting next to a gramophone. The dog is listening with a cocked head and the caption reads, “He hears his master’s voice.”
In a way, I believe this dog and its master resemble my attempts at being God’s person. I am trying to hear God’s voice, but I do, indeed, get distracted. I note that God does not go off and leave me; He waits for me or sometimes circles back for me. He cleans up my messes. Sometimes I end up rather far from Him, but I always have the opportunity to catch up and re-join.
Jim Nichols is a retired Abilene Christian University biology professor and current medical chaplain