St Anthony of the Desert

Orthodox Christian Mission

Las Cruces, New Mexico

Fr Gabriel

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Annie’s Lessons for Ordinary Folds As Well As Dogs

Sunnybank in Pompton Lakes New Jersey is a park now. Albert Payson Terhune lived there, raised his collies, and wrote those books we older folks read as children. At the end of my favorite, Lad: A Dog, Terhune included the gravestone inscription: “Lad – a thoroughbred in body and soul.” Then he wrote, with a pen full of irony: “Some people are wise enough to know that a dog has no soul.” In fact, the whole book bears testimony to Lad’s great soul.

Our beloved Annie recently crossed the rainbow bridge. She was fifteen plus, and completely worn down by the infirmities of age, driven only by a will to live that had seen her through many illnesses, including cancer surgery survived almost five years.

Annie was not “good enough” to be a show dog. A thoroughbred Keeshond, she nonetheless lacked the proper fur coat – hers was too silky – and her face was too long.

Annie’s early life was marked by a series of reversals. Tossed from owner to owner, she was in shelter for a month and finally came to us an insecure and frightened dog. We were fairly certain she had been abused, because until she signaled her end by refusing food, she ate ravenously, as if every bowl was her first meal.

As she came to be comfortable at home with us, her true nature slowly emerged. People who rescue dogs know the process. After a few months she became strong and bright and secure enough to be stubborn. From being a dog that snapped at those who came near her, she became a gentle soul. All who knew her knew how sweet Annie was, though she was definitely not a pushover.

Some people are wise enough to know that a dog has no soul, wrote Terhune, who didn’t believe it for a moment. But some souls can only emerge after trials and sorrows have been replaced by victories and joys. It can take a long time.

As with animals so with people: abuse makes them hide their true nature under a veneer. Sometimes the veneer is thin, but sometimes it is impenetrable. The veneer can be anger or silence, aloofness or arrogance.

With enough time and love, however, most people – like animals – emerge from behind cover, and come into the light of day. Why would we crush the soul of another person, were it not that we ourselves are lost souls?

St. Seraphim of Sarov said, “Acquire the Spirit of Peace and thousands around you will be saved.” That Spirit of Peace is also the Giver of Life. We extend life to others by making room for them to expose their souls. Henri Nouwen, with whom I worked years ago, said that our task as spiritual guides is to open space for people to show their true selves. This goes for humans, but it also goes for animals – and sometimes we see it more easily in our animals.

None of this contemplation eases the pain in my heart at Annie’s death. But that pain is rendered bearable by knowing that most of her years were spent where she was loved and accepted, where she was family.

Toward the end Annie taught us how to live without regret or rancor, with stoic patience, with gratitude for the ability to breathe and smell the flowers, and with appreciation – albeit grumbling – for affection shown her. She taught us to enjoy what quality of life we have, and not to be embarrassed if we fall down when we are old. She taught us to conserve our energy, to rest when we must, and to trust those who love us.

Goodbye Annie. You showed us your true soul and we loved you.

published 07 Oct 2011