This is Meninho. We called him ninho (niño), for short.
Two months ago, Manny, our little boy schnauzer, died of liver failure. We were heart-broken. Bereaved. Grieving.
Nobody can ever replace Manny – his personality, love, and memories are too special – but, in time, the hole in our hearts can be healed through a new furry family member.
A friend informed us that her dogs recently had produced a litter. One was available. We went to her farm to meet and spend time with the puppies.
Meninho was one of seven. One died during birth. We just learned that the remaining six have developed Parvo. The last thing any new puppy owner wants to hear is a diagnosis of parvo. Parvo in puppies is a common disease with deadly consequences. Puppies ages six weeks to six months are the most susceptible. Meninho was six weeks old when we met him … we were to bring him home when he reached ten.
We were grief-stricken. Again.
Helping families to deal with the demise of a beloved pet was a major part of my ministry as chaplain at an animal rescue shelter in Northeast Wisconsin after retiring. Because they couldn’t understand, well-meaning people would ask, “Why does an animal rescue shelter need a chaplain?”
Current circumstances reminded me of the challenges, concerns, and considerations people experience with their pets throughout their too-short time with us.
Life would go on, for our family …
The best time to bring a new beating heart into your home after the demise of a beloved one was one of the struggles I tried to help people deal with during my time as a chaplain.
Others further explain why “pet-people chaplains” are vital:
● I probably spent more time consoling and counseling people upon the traumatic and heart-wrenching departure of a family member, albeit a four-legged one, than any other aspect of my ministry.
● A woman called the shelter to ask if there was someone she could talk to about a difficult choice regarding her nine-year-old cat. It wasn’t a life-or-death decision. Her cat was going blind. After its preliminary diagnosis and second opinions, the consensus was that the only hope to save the cat’s vision was at a specialized facility in Madison, the state capital. The procedure would cost about $5,000 … almost all the money she had in the world. Should she spend it on her cat? She made an appointment to speak with her pastor, whose response was, “Geez … it’s only a cat!” Alas, he just didn’t understand.
● People adopting pets and bringing new ones into their lives often want the pet to be blessed. Sure, some churches honor St. Francis (of Assisi), patron saint of animals and the environment, with an annual “blessing of the pets.” Up-close-and-personal, however, is something different entirely.
● Prayers over pets (sick or otherwise) and home visitations were frequently requested. Other times, disappointed and desperate, many wanted clergy to be there with them, holding their hands and hugging them closely, as they said “good-bye” to their family member departing for the rainbow bridge.
● Some deeply spiritual people wanted their houses blessed before (and after) pets entered and exited.
● Of course, many times were frequently spent visiting and playing and helping with the pets housed in the shelter.
Probably my most extraordinary moments as chaplain at an animal rescue shelter, however, were those spent in a variety of area churches, preaching about God’s love for all creatures great and small. The subject matter is rarely taught (or quickly passed over) in most seminaries and schools of theology.
Lions, leopards, bears (although no tigers), along with nearly 100 other animals, insects, and non-human creatures are mentioned throughout the Hebrew and Christian Testaments. And, while dogs figure prominently in several biblical passages, interestingly there is not a single mention of a domestic cat in the canon.
(You’ve heard it before: “What is dog spelled backwards?”)
What does the Bible say about animals?
In Genesis 9:3-4, God tells us that a person cannot cut off the limb of a living animal. In Exodus, the Ten Commandments remind us that we are supposed to treat animals with respect and care, particularly those who work our lands.
Psalm 147:9 shows us that God is concerned for all creation, including the animals: “He provides food for the cattle and for the young ravens when they call.” In Psalm 104:21, we see that “the lions roar for their prey and seek their food from God”; implied is that God feeds them. In Luke 12:6, Jesus says, “Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God.”
And, who can forget these words from the 23rd Psalm, “The Lord is my shepherd …”
If God cares for creation and the animals, so should we.
In fact, it is God’s care for animals that probably explains our desire for pets.
We have inherited the part of God’s nature that cares for the animals. In the very beginning, we’re told, God blessed the people and commanded them, “Fill the earth and subdue it. Rule the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground” (Genesis 1:28).
When beginning my messages from the pulpit, I asked those in the pews if they remembered the story of Balaam and his donkey (Numbers 22:21-39).
After Balaam started punishing his devoted donkey for refusing to move, the animal was miraculously given the power to speak. It complained about Balaam’s treatment. Balaam saw an angel, who informed him that the donkey’s behavior was the only reason the angel did not kill Balaam. Balaam immediately repented, and was told to go on his way.
I reminded the congregation that, if God could speak through a jackass, God certainly could speak through me!
Disclaimer: I share these stories of our experiences not to complain or seek sympathy, but because we are North Americans acculturating to another country’s norms and expectations. Information in posts such as this aren’t found in tourist or relocation guides … nor asked about and answered in most Facebook groups. Hopefully, some will learn from my anecdotes and be better prepared for the grit and grist, the grain of living abroad.
Bruce is publisher and creative director of Portugal Living Magazine. Read the current online issue and subscribe to the magazine at no cost whatsoever: http://portugallivingmagazine.com/our-current-issue