By Emily Sanna
I met Peanut on my second date with my husband. I’m pretty sure it was a test; an audition to see how well we got along. I may have been replaceable at that point. Peanut, however, was not.
While Peanut from the very beginning was as polite and proper as only a papillon can be, it was made abundantly clear that at first I was accepted only on Matt’s forbearance. I used to stop by his on-campus apartment during the day to drop stuff off, grab a snack, or sometimes just crash between grad school classes. Peanut was always there, waiting, obviously disappointed that I wasn’t Matt and yet unwilling to let me out of his sight—who knows what I might take if he wasn’t watching.
Matt had Peanut since he was 13 years old—he saved up his allowance for a year, researched dog breeds, and picked up this tiny, energetic fluff ball of a papillon who ran in nonstop circles around the house. Matt was homeschooled, and so Peanut quickly became brother, best friend, classmate, teacher, and son. Going through Matt’s old papers at his parents’ house one Christmas, I found hundreds of agility ribbons, hand-written logs of walks and bathroom habits, and thousands of photos of a boy and his dog.
I never knew Peanut the energetic maniac; by the time he came into my life he was 12, older, wiser, and slightly deafer. But while he might not have been prone to zooming around the house for hours, he still loved miles-long hikes, ripping up pieces of paper into tiny shreds with his teeth, and jumping through hoops made out of our arms.
I knew (and loved) Peanut for more than three years and lived with him more than one before I knew he loved me almost as much as he did Matt. He had eaten a dozen chicken wings, bones and all, and felt—and looked—pretty disgusting. We took him to the vet and he just kept shivering; I wrapped him in my coat to keep him warm. The vet took him in the back to clean him up and run some tests, and when they got back Peanut ran to me—not Matt—and hid his head in my armpit, asking for comfort.
From then on, I had the privilege of being Peanut’s mom. I was the one he would run to when he was sick. He liked me to hold him upside down like a baby; he’d fall asleep in my arms for an hour or more while I held him. When I got home from work, he would greet me at the door, wagging his tail frantically and making noises that I’m pretty sure could only have been detailed descriptions of his day.
Peanut died a couple of weeks ago, at the ripe old age of 17. He and Matt were in Connecticut, hundreds of miles away from me in Chicago. His death was quiet and dignified, as deaths go, but I didn’t get to hold him in my arms or comfort him. The fact that I couldn’t be there for him almost kills me.
I miss Peanut constantly, but I also know that he’s a part of me that I’ll carry for the rest of my life. From this toy dog bred to sit on the laps of French queens, who loved nothing more than tromping through the woods covered in mud and sticks, I learned to be unapologetically myself. Through his fearlessness and his joy of new places, even after he had gone blind and deaf, I learned to take risks and be unafraid of failure—you might fall down the stairs sometimes, but that shouldn’t stop you from climbing back up and trying again. He taught me to age gracefully and that there are just as many adventures to be had at 17 (is that 95 in dog years?) as there are to be had at 2. And he taught me about grief; about how losing someone you love leaves a hole in your heart, even when you know that now they are with God and no longer in any pain.
Most importantly, he taught me lessons about unconditional love that will affect all my future relationships. Loving Peanut gave me a new understanding of what it means to love someone else. And that’s a lesson I’ll take with me forever.
By Kenneth McIntosh
Duke was a rescue dog who had been abused by his original owner. When he first came into our home, he was afraid of me and not so afraid of my wife—a reminder that his cruel first owner had been male.
He would hide from me, slinking into corners and under furniture. If I laughed suddenly, or made an unexpected move, he cowered and shook with fear. A long, nasty scar ran along his flank and we could not imagine how anyone had ever raised a hand to injure such a beautiful, good-natured creature.
As the months lengthened into our first year together, Duke gradually overcame his fear of me. He decided to move his sleeping place from under the furniture to a dog bed beside ours, then began to take food from my hand, and finally started to rub up against me, asking to be petted.
After several years, Duke was loyally and passionately attached to both my wife and me. Any time one of us came home, he would bark and run to the door, wagging his tail exuberantly. If I stayed home to write, he followed me around the house. He lived to please; even a disapproving scowl would make him look crestfallen, and if we asked, “Want to take a walk?” he would bark and prance with enthusiasm.
Duke is no longer with us. When he died, I lost a good friend and a close companion. I mourned his passing; even today, tears spring to my eyes when I think of him. But Duke taught me much about truly limitless loyalty and love. We had redeemed him from a brutal master—although our act of redemption brought us as much joy as it did him. In return, he gave himself to us unreservedly, up until his last hour of life.
When I think of Duke’s love, I can’t help but draw a comparison to my own relationship with Christ. Should I not give myself just as freely to Christ as Duke did to us? I find great joy in thinking that my affection for God brings as much divine delight as Duke’s companionship brought to me.
Shortly after Duke died, a friend who cares for rescue dogs wrote me these consoling words: “Duke thanks you for a wonderful life and for being there when he needed you the most. Now he sits at God’s feet, sharing all his memories of his great life and family with all in heaven.” The image of Duke at God’s feet is wonderfully comforting, but a skeptic might pause to ask, “Is that really true?”
Many theologians would say no, animals do not get to enjoy eternal life. The Bible doesn’t have anything to say on the subject. John Scotus Erigena (Charlemagne’s Irish-born theologian) and C. S. Lewis (also born in Ireland, though many centuries later) both wrote about animal salvation, sharing a similar view. Lewis and Erigena suggest that our love for animals is a part of God’s restoration of all things. Erigena writes, “When man is recalled into the original grace of his nature . . . he will gather again to himself every sensible creature below him through the wonderful might exercised by the Divine Power in restoring man.” In Lewis’ novel The Great Divorce, he describes a “great lady” in heaven surrounded by a small menagerie, explaining, “Every beast and bird that came near her had its place in her love. In her they became themselves. And now the abundance of life she has in Christ from the Father flows over into them.”
Duke’s death was a painful blow to me. Perhaps the last lesson he needed to teach me was to let go and trust God with the final destiny of a dear friend and constant companion. We do not really know what happens to any of us after death; we can only release ourselves and all who are important to us into divine love, trusting that even in death’s darkness, that God’s love will never let us go.
And, I must confess, that when I think of Duke, I find myself agreeing with Robert Louis Stevenson, who wrote: “You think dogs will not be in heaven? I tell you, they will be there long before any of us!”
by Ellyn Sanna
I found adolescence to be a difficult time. My older sisters had left home, my brother had recently died in an airplane accident, and my parents were deep in grief. Suddenly my friends were more important to me than my family and, yet, they didn’t offer me a sense of security and unconditional love. Like many teenagers, I was prone to bouts of angst and self-loathing. The world seemed a bleak and threatening place.
My parents were deeply religious and, when I was younger, I had chatted with God the same way I talked to all my imaginary friends—but now I decided I no longer believed in God. Life was meaningless. Airplanes fell out of the sky, friends talked about you behind your back, and parents didn’t understand you. There was nothing in life you could really count on, and God was only a fantasy. Fantasy was fun (I was a fan of J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis), but it wasn’t real. I was convinced God was just one more pretty story. I felt abandoned. But if God wasn’t real, then life had always been like this and I just hadn’t realized before that there was absolutely nothing solid in life I could cling to.
Except for Kitty. Through all those dreary years, my small three-colored cat was the emotional anchor in my chaotic world. No matter how bad my day at school had been, she would be waiting for me when I got home. With a little chirp of welcome, she would run to greet me and twine between my legs. While I did my homework, she sat on my lap—her paws kneading my legs—and at night, I fell asleep to the sound of her purring beside me. When I cried alone in my room, she gazed at me with wide, green eyes. She didn’t care if I was good or bad, fat or thin, pretty or ugly. She didn’t care if I got A’s or C’s. She loved me unconditionally. That unconditional love was my tether all through my adolescent years. Again and again, Kitty pulled me back from the brink of despair.
One late night I sat reading in bed with Kitty curled up on my lap, and I realized something: I still believed in God. I could no longer bring myself to talk to a loving imaginary friend the way I had when I was younger, yet I felt certain that something was there with me. As I pet Kitty’s fur, I felt love radiate from my hands into her small body and then back again from her into my hands—a love that was bigger than either Kitty or me. I hadn’t been abandoned after all.
For some reason, I found myself remembering the Bible verse, “Wherever two of you are gathered together, there am I” (Matt. 18:20). I’d been taught at church that the verse was a promise that the Holy Spirit would bless even the smallest gathering of God’s people, but now I understood it differently. This small loving covenant between my cat and me was not just blessed by God—it was God. God was present with me because love was present.
That moment of slightly unorthodox insight was the first step toward my own personal faith in God. That faith is now the still point in my turning world (to quote T. S. Eliot)—but I’m not sure I would have ever reached the place I am now if hadn’t been for one small three-colored cat.
by Laura Whitaker
I always wanted a little brother.
I just never expected mine to be half a foot tall, walk on four legs instead of two, and be covered with fur.
Mind you, don’t be fooled by the fact that we are *technically* different species. Pepper is practically the poster child for little brothers everywhere. In fact, I’m not totally convinced that he doesn’t secretly run a think tank from my parents’ basement on how to wreak havoc on the lives of big sisters everywhere.
Take my 18th birthday party, for example. I had invited a bunch of my friends over to watch a movie and basically stuff ourselves full of pizza and cake. We were just settling down to watch Maid in Manhattan when my twin brother and his friends decided to crash the party. Not such a big deal . . . until Pepper ran into the living room a short time later, one of my bras looped over his torso and head. He had been rooting through my laundry and had gotten himself caught in the straps. Needless to say, I was mortified. Nice job embarrassing your sister, bud, in front of five cute guys.
The little guy also has tattled on me more times than I can count. His many tattling crimes include barking loud enough to wake my parents when I’ve gotten home late and unearthing the remains of the last slice of lasagna I swore I hadn’t eaten from the trash can.
He’s pushed me off of the couch to snuggle with our parents, as well as out of my bed so that he could stretch his legs to sleep better (I slept on the floor). He’s ripped my books to shreds, along with my shoes, and stole all of my stuffed animals to serve as his personal chew toys (poor Lambie).
Yet, every time I have been through a rough patch in my life, he is always the first one I want to see. Nothing soothes a broken heart or balances an uncertain soul better than the soft snores of a miniature schnauzer little dude curled up on your chest, his nose buried somewhere between your ear and your chin. When we see each other, it’s not just his body that wiggles and shakes with happiness—mine does too.
I know he’s my greatest champion, rooting for me to succeed at everything I try in life, because that’s what little brothers do. They love you unconditionally and would do anything for you . . . even if they are simultaneously plotting to embarrass you in front of a really cute guy.
My little brother is turning fourteen next month and I consider myself fortunate to still have him. I call him every day on the phone to tell him as much. He doesn’t say much, but he does always bark at the end of the call. I like to think it’s his way of telling me that he loves and feels fortunate to have me as his big sister as well.
Which, in the end, is what having family should always be about.
Those of us who love animals know that they leave a mark on our lives that goes far beyond simple companionship. They teach us about love and give us a profound gift of friendship. They show us another face of God.
Have you had an animal that touched your life in some way? We want to hear your stories about your pets and animal companions!