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Feb 2 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

Yardwork Musings

So I was doing yard work this afternoon and my eyes kept tearing up–I figured it was grass allergy. Anyway, something was missing and I realized while mowing the lawn that I wasn’t grousing as usual, “That dog is killing the grass” or “I’m sick and tired of picking up after her.” Sweeping the patio I almost expected Ginger to come bounding out of the doggie door because she always took a special delight in going to the lawn after I had beautified it and leaving one of her masterpieces on it. (If your eyes had seen what my eyes have seen, you would agree that she could be quite the sculptor at times.)

The realization comes gradually but with absolute certainty–I would be happy to go on cleaning up after Ginger and reseeding the dead patches in the lawn if I could somehow turn back the clock, take away Ginger’s cancer, and have her with us for twelve more years. Of course, this is mostly for Barbara’s sake. (Dang allergy–where’s the tissue?)

It occurred to me that every pet owner has an implicit agreement with their animal. It begins the day we bring it home from the rescue shelter, pet store, or wherever we are fortunate enough to encounter them for the first time. I admit that there are good dogs and bad dogs, good cats and bad cats, and so on and on, even as there are good humans and bad humans. But in all fairness to the animals, the bad ones have frequently become that way through the abuse of a bad human or the neglect of a clueless human.

The agreement between owner and pet goes something like this–and I tell it as from the animal’s mouth:

Oh, I am so happy you chose me! I apologize if I’m coming on too strong, but I can’t contain my excitement! You’ve made the right decision, I promise. In time you will see.

Here, my owner, is our agreement. I will be loyal to you from now on until the day I die. I will always be happy to see you–although sometimes I may play hard to get. I will never judge you, even when you’ve done something really bad or stupid. I won’t avoid you just because you’re in a bad mood, have the flu, or because you’re not that much fun to be around. I make my own fun and sometimes you will find yourself caught up in it. It’s alright with me if you just want to sit and stare out the window. I’m happy to sit with you. I don’t need explanations or justifications–I accept you exactly as you are. I will forgive you when dinner is late or you yell at me when you’re really angry at something else. In fact, I will forgive you for almost everything. I’ll never scold you, belittle you, intentionally hurt you, or abandon you. Whenever I embarrass you, it will be purely accidental.

I will obey you and disobey you. At first it will be more disobedience than obedience, but after several years that will turn around. I won’t try to run away too often or too many times (of course, what this means to my way of thinking may be different than to yours.) I will be loads of entertainment and make certain that you always have lots of stories to tell your friends. There will be exasperating stories and hilarious stories, scary stories and heart-warming stories. Also, I will make friends with your friends– although I should warn you that I’m a good judge of character and can sniff out creeps long before you wise-up to them.

I am going to be cowardly at times–it may even surprise you at the things I shy away from. Other times, I will amaze you with selfless acts of courage. Even though I cannot tell the one from the other, I will thoroughly enjoy the attention I get from you, whether comfort or praise.

I assume that you will feed me and make sure I get lots of exercise. On the other hand, if you want to eat poorly and spend your life on the couch feeding me scraps of unhealthy human food, I’m happy to join you. We can get overweight and out of breath together. Just keep in mind that this sort of behavior will kill me long before it kills you.

So all I ask of you, is don’t let me suffer. This will be tricky for both of us, because I won’t be able to tell you about my pain and discomfort. In fact, you will be misled when I still perk up as you walk in the door or give me special treats. I can’t help being like that and sometimes the tail wagging (dogs) or purring (cats) happen all by themselves. You will have to watch me closely and this may be hard for you, especially when your heart discerns what is happening with me before your head is ready to accept it. You will notice it in my eyes, or when I struggle to sit down or get up, or if I start limping or leave half the food in my dish. The time will come when I won’t even want you to do the normal scratching, but just a little massaging behind the ears or the side of my neck. When you see the signs, please don’t disregard them. When I can no longer be my own self, I won’t want to be.

This is your hour to show me the greatest kindness. It will be hard for you, but you’ll get through it if you think of what’s best for me. You will be able to do something for me that is not even guaranteed to humans; namely, to fall into a peaceful sleep with someone I love stroking my neck. And after a good chase, a decent meal and a long day with my best friend, I couldn’t ask for more.

That’s the agreement we enter with our pets and though it breaks our hearts, we are bad owners if we don’t keep our end of it.

The wisdom of the ancient Hebrew sage rings true today:

A righteous man has regard for the life of his animal,
But even the compassion of the wicked is cruel (Proverbs 12:10).

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go check the medicine cabinet to see if Barb has something for this stupid allergy. I can’t keep doing my chores with watery eyes.

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