Much ink has been spilled on millennials’ obsession with pets. This year, millennials surpassed baby-boomers in pet ownership. As #NationalDogDay came and went a few weekends ago, my Instagram feed affirmed this fact as I saw photo after photo of my friends with their pups.
And like many of my peers, I too have a pet, a yellow lab/golden retriever mutt named Lupin.
Alongside the stats and Instagram photos of millennials and their pets, I’ve also read the snarky social media posts and scathing critiques of my generation’s obsession with our furry friends. Much of the criticism is justified; my generation may well be prone to idolize our pets, and that should be called out.
Yet, dismantling idols also involves both recognizing and honoring the good gifts that are often behind the idols, and then restoring them to their proper place. While I abhor any notion that pets are akin to children, I strongly believe that animals are good gifts from our Father that have been entrusted to our care.
At the risk of sounding like a clichéd millennial, here are few ways that my dog has been a gift to me and has shaped me as a person as I’ve cared for him.
I’ve learned about vulnerability.
When we got Lupin, there was an immediate awareness that his life would be short. We adopted him at five years old, and dogs of his breed usually live 12 years or so. As I found Lupin becoming part of my daily routine — whether that was curling up at my feet each night while I watched TV, or running into the kitchen with perked-up ears at the first whiff of a Costco rotisserie chicken — I experienced vulnerable love in a new way. He brings me joy in the minutia of life, yet I grieved with the realization that in a few years he would die.
“For some of us, the love we have for our pets, and the necessary grief that comes with their short lives increases the love we have to offer the world,” writes Karen Swallow Prior. ‘The misery of keeping a dog is his dying so soon,’ Sir Walter Scott observed. ‘But, to be sure, if he lived for fifty years and then died, what would become of me?’ The sheer gratuitousness of the love we give and receive from animals offers both a picture of and portal into the infinite, gratuitous love of God.”
The love I have for Lupin certainly pales in comparison to the love I have for my fellow human beings. Yet it is a different kind of love, and that love teaches me about what it means to be vulnerable and love freely.
I’ve seen my salvation in a new light.
Shortly after we brought our dog home, my husband was preparing to feed him. As Lupin saw Mike pull the can of food from the fridge, he came running to the kitchen and sat down.
“You’re a good dog and it’s time for your dinner,” Mike said to Lupin as he opened the can. “But we don’t feed you dinner because you’re a good dog. We feed you dinner because you’re our dog.”
I know that my adoption as God’s daughter isn’t based on my merit, but I often act as if God’s goodness to me post-salvation is based on my good behavior. In those few sentences Mike spoke to Lupin, I saw my salvation in a new light. As we feed our dog because he is ours, God provides for me because I am His. Of course I’d learned this truth before both in church and through my Bible study, but seeing it played out in my home helped me understand it anew.
I’ve learned about resurrection.
I’ve written before about my love for this two-word sentence from one of Wendell Berry’s poems.
Those words have long resonated with me, and I’ve worked to live out the resurrection — the rebirth and renewal of all things through Christ’s work — in my daily life by looking for places of brokenness and working to fix them. That work is often long and seemingly hopeless.
My dog, however, has shown me the truth of resurrection. When we brought him to our home, he’d been neglected and possibly abused. He was in the process of recovering from an injury. He would lie on his bed all day and not acknowledge us when we got home. He would cower in fear over the oddest things. He couldn’t walk on one of his back legs.
In short, he was pathetic. Anyone could look at him and know that his condition was not God’s design for dogs.
Mike and I didn’t do anything spectacular for Lupin, but we fed him, petted him, walked him, and played with him. In a few months, the dog that wouldn’t make eye contact with us ran for a toy to play as soon as he heard us come home. When we sit down on our couch, he runs over to sit by us, ready to be petted, expecting to be loved.
All Creatures, Great and Small
The story of a neglected dog becoming the beloved pet might strike you as silly or sentimental, but it reminds me to hope. God used our little works of faithful love to restore our dog, and God is using my other work to restore the places He’s called me.
Again, I get why millennials are criticized and given grief over our obsessive love of pets. But despite the criticism, we should not lose sight of the beauty pets offer us as we care for them.
God made all creatures great and small, and God has made my life richer through my dog.
Do you have a pet? Have you learned any lessons from pet ownership?