Animals At Your Side

How animals open our hearts to a greater Love

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With Me

The other day we ventured out to undiscovered territory…actually it was just a trail that we had never been on before.  That means that there were all sorts of new smells, sights, and sounds for my dog…she was somewhere completely unfamiliar to her.  But there was one thing that was familiar to her…me!  While she was someplace she had never been before, she was with someone who she had been with before.  All she had to do was follow along with me and I would take care of her.

I was the one leading her along this new trail…I was the one looking out for anything that needed to be avoided (bugs, bushes, and the like)…I was the one that knew where the end was and how to get there.  She was the one who was walking with me…relying on me to be the leader…relying on who I am.

I started thinking of the times when I don’t know where I am going…when things look unfamiliar (or hopeless or confusing).  When everything around me almost looks as if it is in darkness, there too is Someone there with me.  And He asks, “Will you walk with me into the darkness?”  He simply says, “Take my hand and walk with me, keeping your eyes on me.”[1]

He is the One leading us…He is the One looking out for anything along the way…He is the One that knows where the end is and how to get there.  We are to follow…trusting in His Goodness…trusting in who He is.  While the trail may be unfamiliar, He is what remains familiar.  He simply asks us to feel His hand in ours and let Him lead us.  As long as we don’t let go, there is nothing to fear…because we are with Him and He won’t give us anything that we can’t handle.

[1] See Fr. Michael Gaitley, Consoling the Heart of Jesus.



Ordinary to Extraordinary

For all you dog owners out there, I am sure you know the feeling of always having a fan club as you move throughout the house.  If I move from one room to another I am sure to be joined by one of my dogs or if I am working on something, say homework, I can glance over my shoulder and quickly spot a member of my fan club.  Sometimes they are so close, they are almost involved in whatever I am doing…this seems to be the case especially when I am cleaning.  Kneeling down to wipe off the sliding door is accompanied by a wet-nose in the face and a tail banging against the door.

So today I found myself sweeping the patio (that is, before the sun came out)…of course not alone, but with that oh-so-cute puppy that I have mentioned in previous posts.  She held her down-stay next to me as I swept up all the debris left by the numerous birds that visit our yard.  A typically boring and mundane act was turned into an enjoyable and meaningful act.  First, because I could look over and know that I was in the presence of an oh-so-cute puppy.  And second, because I knew that I was sweeping for her and the other dogs (so that there isn’t anything for them to pick up and potentially eat).

I was reminded of how ordinary acts can be transformed into extraordinary acts when done with love.  The littlest acts take on a whole new meaning when seen through the eyes of love.  And, “pure love…knows that only one thing is needed to please God: to do even the smallest things out of great love – love, and always love.”[1]  So those mundane acts can no longer be something that we dread but something that we desire…for in them, we are uniting our hearts with a Heart that never stops loving.

When we are busy with our day-to-day tasks, may we hear these words in our hearts: “Know that I am with you” (Gen 28:15).  And He is even closer to us than that wet nose in your face when you are cleaning the sliding door.  He moves with us wherever we go and involves Himself in whatever we are doing.  I guess you could say He is the founding member of our fan club!

[1] St. Faustina

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Perhaps you have encountered a dog that is trained to sit rather than jump all over a person when being greeted.  Or a dog that is trained to not mouth other dogs while playing.  Or a dog that is trained to walk at a specific location beside a person.

Perhaps you have thought to yourself, “hey that dog is less free.”  You look at the dog who is able to do whatever it wants…jump up on people, bite other dogs, go wherever it pleases…and you say, “now that is a free dog!”

But what if the dog that isn’t able to do whatever it wants is actually the “free dog.”  Think about this, what exactly is freedom?  Is freedom really being able to do whatever you want?  Or is freedom being able to choose the good?  Do we have a duty towards others or a right from others?  Freedom is not freedom from something, it is freedom for something.

So using the dog for an example…that dog that is trained to not give into whatever it wants, that dog that listens to its owner, has more freedom because it is not a slave to those passions.  It can allow those passions to be transformed in order to bring about a more harmonious, balanced state.  So which dog do you think is more free?  The dog that barks and chews the blinds off when someone knocks on the door or the dog that is trained to go and sit on its bed at the sound of knocking?  Which one are you?


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A Match Made in Heaven

“Man is more manlike, when joy is the fundamental thing in him.”[1]

Animals inspire joy in the human person.  A child who is suffering from loneliness can have the joy of having the companionship of a four-legged friend.  When it seems like the world is against you, there is an animal to remind you that you are not alone.  No matter who you are or who the world says that you are, an animal will be there for you…waiting for you…never leaving your side.

The companionship of an animal can give the joy of knowing that you are loved…the joy of knowing that you are not alone even in your darkest moments.  Having a dog lie beside you in a hospital bed or be by your side when no one else will, reminds us of the One who is waiting for us with a love that exceeds anything of this world.

Follow this link to check out a video that shows the joy of a young girl with her assistance dog (I must mention that I had the pleasure to watch this dog throughout her training).  This is a short video definitely worth watching!  Kylie and Stasha are truly a “match made in heaven.”

[1] G.K. Chesterton

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According to Aristotle, touch is the most basic of all the senses.[1]  It is something we as humans share with animals…it is a way we as humans can relate to animals.  In our shared ability to touch, we can communicate with each other.  An animal can be trained to touch a hand, and then follow that hand as a guide.  By following that hand (or target), an animal will be able to perform a wide array of behaviors, from remaining still to jumping through the air.

Touch also forms a connection…two things in a way become one…one can take on the other.  Back to the animal following a hand…what that person does, the animal will also do…the animal participates in a likeness to that person.  That person brings the animal’s natural behaviors and transforms them into spectacular behaviors that showcase the animal’s beauty in an even more astounding way…in a way that the animal could not present or achieve on its own.

We humans can experience touch in a deeper way…our hearts can be touched.  When something or someone touches our hearts we make a connection that is deeper than just a physical connection.  A heart that is touched becomes transformed…it can do things that it may not have been able to do prior.

Those spectacular behaviors that animals can perform due to the sense of touch are only glimpses of what we can do because/when our hearts are touched.  That connection we can make with animals inspires us to make a connection with our fellow human beings.  When we touch someone’s heart, we can guide that heart to love or be loved.  We take on that person in his entirety (including all his hurts) so that we can transform that heart…so that we can showcase that person’s beauty in an even more astounding way.

A killer whale and trainer.

[1] Aristotle, De Anima.


No Barking

So this past Saturday was a puppy class Saturday…and as I’ve described in previous posts, puppy classes are where volunteer puppy raisers teach their puppy-in-program different behaviors that will help them in their process of becoming a future assistance dog.

This class we had to face the oh so dreaded doorbell…dun dun dun!  Say it ain’t so!  Now now…don’t fear, the doorbell is not something to be dreaded.  In fact, if you are an assistance dog the doorbell is a chance to show off just how calm, cool, and collected you are.  However, the common reaction to a doorbell is for a dog to bark (as you probably have experienced at one point or another in your life).

So as I was sitting in class and the sound of a doorbell went off (the room is equipped with doorbells) it was soon followed by the sound of barking.  Remember these guys aren’t assistance dogs yet, but they’re getting there…and that’s the whole reason we have these classes.

Now this got me asking myself…what do I react to in this way?  I mean, when there is traffic do I start complaining? (Which now that I think about it, is not too far off from barking).  Or when someone does something that gets on my nerves do I talk about them behind their back?   What are the things in my life that I have a (barking) reaction to?

If a dog can be trained not to react to a doorbell, can’t I learn how to not react to (fill in the blank)?  Rather than bark at (fill in the blank), why don’t I train myself to act in an appropriate manner?

While it may take time and constant effort, it is worth it.  You may want to bark everytime you hear the doorbell but if you keep at it you’ll soon find yourself acting calm, cool, and collected at its sound.


It’s Real

Have you ever heard those stories about an animal saving a person or witnessed the interaction between man and an animal?  How is it that an animal that has never been trained saves a person?  And how is it that a 200-pound man can interact with an 8,000-pound animal?

I think a look back to the Garden may answer these questions.  In the Garden, a state of harmony, the animals are brought before man (cf. Gen 2:19).  In this act of bringing the animals before man, the animals are being directed toward man.

It is the first man who gives names to each of the animals or speaking in philosophical terms, it is Adam who actualizes all species (cf. Gen 2:20).  Without man, the animals are nameless.  And a name expresses essence and identity.

I think we need a philosophical interruption here…Thomas Aquinas states that “everything seeks after its own perfection.”[1]  This means everything is meant to be something specific, and becoming that thing is perfection (perfection here means completion).

He continues saying, “The perfection of an effect consists in a certain likeness to the agent.”[2]  What this means is that a thing’s perfection is for it to resemble or imitate its agent or cause.  In each creature’s desire for its own perfection, is the desire for the agent…the cause is what makes the effect perfect.

Now back to the Garden…By giving the animals names, Adam is giving them their essence or in other words, the first man is a cause of the animals’ essence.

Animals do not seek man just for the sake of receiving food, they are seeking man as their cause.  Animals have, then, in their nature a desire for man.  And because of this desire that is built into the nature of animals, they are willing and able to work with man.

The relationship between man and animal is not something forced or artificial…it is something natural and real.  And if you ask me, it is something quite beautiful!

[1] ST I, Q 6, A 1.

[2] ST I, Q 6, A 1.