By John Rieping | All rights reserved | Previously published 5/11/12 in The Madera Tribune
I've only had two pets that I loved dearly: a cat named Spunky and a short-haired dog called Peppy.
Both displayed signs of abuse and abandonment, and both behaved like former indoor pets. Adjusting to a rural life outdoors in Madera County would be a challenge for them.
Spunky, a white tabby with gray tiger markings, ran away several times in the beginning, but I would coax her home, usually by crouching down and meowing plaintively. Eventually she warmed to people, but she never learned her given name. Instead she came running whenever I meowed. She never ceased to be a source of affection and attention until she died of old age when I began high school.
In the winter of my third year in Madera High School, God unexpectedly gifted us with Peppy, a short black dog with white and gold markings. Peppy had no trouble warming to women, but to my dismay she feared any and all men. The first time I held her she trembled so. I hugged her to me before realizing it wasn't the weather that made her shiver. It was fear. So I let her be. She grew to tolerate me as days passed, but nothing more.
My mother allowed Peppy to sleep in a box inside for her first nights on the farm, but that did not long continue. My mother had little desire for an animal indoors unless it walked on two legs, wore clothes, and called her "mom." So one dark winter's night, Peppy lay whining near the front door under a wooden bench beyond my bedroom window. I grabbed a jacket and went outside.
Peppy shivered from the cold, so I picked her up, put her inside my jacket, and hugged her gently. Her little heart fluttered rapidly against my own measured and ponderous beat. In time, the whining and shivering stopped, and she nestled herself comfortably within the inner folds of my jacket. We sat on the wooden bench beneath my window looking at the stars and the moon. After half an hour I reluctantly but happily returned to my room.
After that night, Peppy and I were good friends. When I left for high school every morning on my bike, she'd run beside me down our long, dusty and unpaved driveway. When I returned, she'd frolic around my feet and often initiate a game of tag the zig-zagging little dog. After a minute or so of stop-and-go tag she'd always let me catch her, despite the fact that she usually outran me when we raced down the driveway to the mailbox.
When restless, troubled or sad, I would walk the driveway at night to gaze up at the stars and the moon and to talk with God or with myself. Peppy would leave the warm refuge of her barrel doghouse and follow. Whenever I stood still she would station herself on my feet like a pint-sized guardian angel. She was my companion when I faced the dark of night, which was my lingering childhood fear, or the dark within myself.
Only a year after Peppy entered our lives, a speeding motorist killed her. When I returned from school that day, my 5-year-old niece solemnly led me to Peppy's little grave marked with a drooping, purple wildflower. Peppy had always enjoyed wandering on the road in front of our property, despite my father's efforts to teach her otherwise. If he even started to call her when she was out in the road she would immediately run back onto our property and it was clear that she understood. Yet, even so, she persisted in her straying.
In a simple way, I can see a reflection of divine love in my relationships with God’s creations. For God also stoops to our level and never stops trying to call us home in a way we can understand. We may draw away in fear, especially when others have failed or abused us before. Yet if we allow it, God embraces us. If we do not, God’s love remains no matter how we stray.
But God surpasses such examples.
For who, were it possible, would choose to become a dog for love of one? Yet Christians believe God became human for love’s sake. Even more, many Christians believe God became true food for us in the Eucharist (aka Holy Communion). Love unfathomable!
None can understand God's love, but we can rely on it. God never abandons us.