On August 11th 2011, one of our pet dogs, Dusty, disappeared. Both Bernice and I were not in Singapore. I was teaching in a seminary in Malaysia and beloved Bernice didn’t tell me, so that I wouldn’t be distracted from my work. She told me two days later. I was in Penang, driving my mum to do some chores when her call came. When I received the news it felt like someone in the family had died. And I know how that feels.
Dusty is old by doggy years, a nine-year-old Shih Tzu-Lhasa Apso mix. And cute. At least we and many of our friends think so. All dog/pet lovers will know about this special link between humans and their favourite pets. Others will probably have no clue as to why we should be so worked up over the loss of a dog. But we were. Julie Banks wrote eloquently of this bond between humans and their pets.
Pets add much richness to our lives. They bring companionship, affection and a listening ear. For this reason it is not hard to understand why dogs and cats are the most popular choices as pets. They are there to greet us when we arrive home, they offer us unconditional love, asking only a modicum of attention in return, they sense our moods and know when we are in need of comfort and affection . . . (Julie Banks, “Pets,” The Complete Book of Everyday Christianity, Singapore: Graceworks, 2011, 752-753.)
And Genesis 2:19 implies that one of the roles of animals is to provide companionship to human beings.
So yes, Dusty was a key part of our lives and now he was gone. Suddenly there was a movie running in my head of all the fun times we had shared with Dusty. And then there was the frustration and pain of not knowing how he had disappeared.
Unlike Freya, our Golden Retriever, Dusty is not given to running out of the house when the gate is open. But Lhasa-Apsos are guard dogs and Dusty does rush out barking when he senses what he interprets as threats to our household. We guess that he could have been on one of his protective missions and found a gap in our front gate and managed to squeeze through, escaping into the road. But where was he now?
Had he been run over by a vehicle and his body discarded into some garbage bin? Had he been kidnapped by folks who had used him as food? Had he been “adopted” by folks who didn’t know whose he was? (Dusty’s tag is on his leash and he only wears his leash when he goes for walks.) Or had he wandered so far from home that he could no longer find his way back? Not knowing made our grief more acute.
We prayed and did all we could to pass the word around including posting notices all over the neighbourhood and putting the word out on Facebook. And although we didn’t talk about it, Dusty’s disappearance did raise the question of whether there would be dogs in heaven. (No biblical scholar I know takes the “dogs” of Revelation 22:15, literally.) Since the new heavens and the new earth are meant to redeem all that is good in this life (Romans 8:21), we assume that our favourite pets would be there too since they are so much a part of us. Apparently C. S Lewis had a similar position.
Someone asked C.S. Lewis whether he thought his dog would go to heaven. Lewis replied that as Scripture was silent on the matter, he could not be sure. However, since the kingdom of God is portrayed metaphorically as embracing animals, and since his dog was so much a part of him, he was inclined to hope that this would be the case. (Julie Banks, “Pets,” 753.)
I had visions of Dusty running out to greet us when we reach our heavenly mansion. If indeed he was dead. But we didn’t know. So we grieved and went on with our lives.
Late last Tuesday evening (Aug 16th) we received a message that someone had posted on Facebook that she had found a dog that looked very much like Dusty. A few phone calls later, we were rushing out the door. As it turned out we knew the family who had rescued the dog. They lived nearby. It was Dusty. We were relieved and thanked God for answering our prayers.
I know many go overboard in the care of their pets. In the West, people spend more money on their pets than they give to people in need (Banks, 752). This is wrong. Still, appropriate care of pets is an echo of Eden and perhaps a foretaste of the future (Isaiah 11:1-9). You may ask why I don’t feel the same way about the many chickens who have given their lives for the fried chicken that I love so much. That is a topic for another day. In the meantime I am just glad Dusty is home.