Sometimes compromise really is the best answer, especially when one’s conflict is with a small animal.
I used to get so frustrated with the squirrels in our backyard because they wouldn’t stay out of the bird feeders. I tried everything to thwart the little trespassers – putting feeders in hard-to-reach places, using safflower seeds (which they’re rumored not to like), and investing in every allegedly-squirrel-proof contraption I could find.
As anyone reading this will probably guess, nothing worked for very long. Squirrels, I discovered, have amazing problem-solving skills. Give them a day or two and they’ll figure out how to overcome every obstacle we place between them and the tasty treats we were hoping would entice cardinals and goldfinches.
One day when I stopped at Wild Birds Unlimited to pick up some goodies for my feathered friends, a photo of a chubby-cheeked squirrel greeted me at the front door along with a sign that read, “Oh go ahead. Feed them too.” Just inside the door sat a display of feeders and a feast prepared especially for them. We could choose from corn on the cob, peanuts in the shell, or a special Wildlife Blend. We could put this bounty in a simple tray feeder or opt for a fancier Squirrel Table and Chair Feeder.
At long last, I decided to enjoy the squirrels instead of fighting them. After all, I’m pretty sure our bushy-tailed buddies never got the memo that all the enticing delicacies were for birds and not for them. Besides, where is it written that we’re supposed to feed birds but not squirrels? Yes, I know they’re rodents, but hey – they’re really kind of cute little acrobats.
I’ve now installed a couple of the tray-style feeders so my furry marauders can sit instead of hanging upside-down while they eat. If they want to …
Both the birds and squirrels love that tray and have even gotten somewhat good at sharing space – except for the blue jays, who dive-bomb squirrels and other birds alike when they decide it’s their turn to eat.
But the jays seem to come later, after the other critters have been gorging for a while, and hey – blue jays are really pretty and they don’t understand memos any better than squirrels do.
But ask the beasts, and they will teach you; the birds of the air, and they will tell you; or the plants of the earth, and they will teach you; and the fish of the sea will declare to you. Who among all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this? In his hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of all mankind. – Job 12:7-10
God has blessed me with a fine parade of pets over my lifetime, and these precious companions have taught me valuable spiritual lessons.
Throughout my childhood, I often related to pets better than I could to people. From this photo, it’s clear that Dad and our first dog taught me to respect animals from an early age.
Mewlinda, a friendly gray farm cat who lived to be about 25 years old, exhibited saintly patience with small children – which is fortunate, since I liked to dress cats in doll clothes. I wish I had a photo, but she looked a lot like this cute girl we met at a state park last fall.
My pets prompted me to learn healthy assertiveness. When I first lived on my own, any “no pets” rule was a deal-breaker, no matter how nice the apartment I wanted to rent. I offered to pay an extra deposit if necessary, but potential landlords had to understand that my furry roommates and I were a package deal.
The critters in my life continue to impart lessons. Here, Oley gently coaxes me to keep my priorities straight …
… while Champaign – basking in a small patch of morning light on our sun porch – teaches me the importance of mindfulness and living in the present moment.
They remind my husband and I that companionship makes just about any activity more fun – or at least more endurable. Here’s Oley, helping Pete grade papers …
Torbjorn helping me assemble a newsletter …
… and Champaign helping me wake up in the morning. (Who knows? If I didn’t have that little cat alternately purring and howling in my ear at 6 a.m., I might sleep all day!)
The creatures who share our space in the backyard have taught me we don’t always need to fear strangers, especially when we learn more about them. My first impulse when I discovered a fox living under our deck was to call animal control. But a bit of quick Google research assured Pete and I that foxes pose no threat to humans as long as we maintain respectful distance, and we grew to love Roxy and her kits.
Several animals demonstrate for us the art of seizing opportunity: Oley likes to sneak a drink of water straight from the bathroom faucet.
Vixen and DW, the horses who live next door to our North Carolina cousins, know they’ll probably get a treat if they greet visitors at the fence.
A goose in our neighborhood park eagerly anticipates a slice of bread.
And the squirrels in our backyard figure, “Why let the birds have all the good stuff?
My friends and relatives have some cuties I adore almost as much as my own. Piccolo shows us how to be way cool without even trying – by simply being himself.
Nala derives pleasure from simple things … like watching the popcorn popper perform its task.
Millie, an adorable beagle we like to think of as our semi-official church dog, shows us how to win friends and influence people as she visits sick congregation members (including me, when I was in the hospital). She’s such a good sport, she allows us to dress her up as a sheep for our annual Christmas pageant.
Animals have thoroughly convinced me that some angels have four legs, fur and whiskers.
During a particularly challenging time in my life – when I was enduring both work and health problems – our sweet Angie Cat sat with me in my recliner every single morning as I poured my feelings of fear, anger, resentment and despair onto my journal pages. I can only aspire to practice such unconditional love. May you rest in peace, my beautiful little friend!
Bear, a magnificent Great Pyrenees, helped his human buddy though some of his darkest hours, staying faithfully by his side as he put his life back together. And then, one day this past winter, this beautiful boy was gone. Everyone in his Nashville, Tennessee neighborhood misses him greatly.
Members of our church had only begun to love Creed – our new pastor’s dog – when God called him home suddenly. Creed left behind a heartbroken congregation.
Finally, some animals teach us to risk loving again, even after a painful loss.
When I’ve lost beloved pets over the years, I’ve often been tempted to say, “Next time I’m not going to get q-u-i-t-e so attached.” Friends have confessed similar thoughts. Invariably the new pet has other ideas – and before we know it, we’re absolutely smitten. Again.
“Grief isn’t just something to endure,” says clinical psychologist Mary Pipher, author of Women Rowing North, Reviving Ophelia and several other books. “It also is a reflection of our capacity to love.” Our new fur babies don’t replace the ones we’ve lost, of course. Instead, they expand our hearts and show us that love is an endlessly abundant and renewable resource.
My friend who lost his beautiful Bear over the winter posted a photo last week and asked, “Should I take him, yay or nay?” Of course the pup went home with him. Who could possibly resist this furry little bundle of pure tail-wagging joy?
Gospel, our congregation’s newest church dog, came home with our pastor a few days ago. How long before our pastor and the rest of the congregation start spoiling him absolutely rotten? Can anyone count to one?? Oh wait … I can see the spoiling has already begun.
Perhaps the most important lesson our animal companions teach us is this: LOVE WINS.
Pete and I live with two furry bundles of love and mischief – Olaf DaVinci, a gorgeous Maine Coon, and Champaign Le Chat, a beautiful cream-colored domestic longhair. Needless to say, we absolutely adore them.
About four months ago, we noticed Oley had started to limp and could no longer jump up onto the bed or his other favorite perches without a struggle. He was insatiably thirsty and peed copiously. I took him to the vet. The verdict: Diabetes.
No sooner had we begun to absorb this distressing news, when the vet delivered another whammy: Champaign had early-stage kidney disease.
Is it permissible to pray for pets? I certainly hope so, because my intercessory prayers began the minute I got the news about our furbabies:
Dear God, please take care of our sweet kitties. Help them respond to treatment and don’t let them suffer. Please, please, please! I love these little guys. Amen.
Fortunately, I’ve never encountered anyplace in the Bible that suggests we shouldn’t pray for our beloved companions. “Ask, and it shall be given you,” says Matthew 7:7. The verse doesn’t tell us what to ask for – it simply says, “Ask.”
While I haven’t found specific references to pets in the Bible, several passages indicate God cares about animals and expects us to care about them too.
“You, Lord, preserve both people and animals,” says Psalm 36:6.
“Not one sparrow … can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it,” says Matthew 10:29.
“The righteous care for the needs of their animals,” says Proverbs 12:10.
The Bible points out that animals can impart spiritual lessons. “But ask the beasts, and they will teach you,” says Job 12:7.
Animals even show up in the Ten Commandments. Not only should we take time off on the Sabbath, but our animals should as well, says Exodus 23:12: “Six days do your work, but on the seventh day do not work, so that your ox and your donkey may rest.”
And who can imagine heaven without critters? In God’s future kingdom, “the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them,” says Isaiah 11:6.
In other words, God loves His creation – all of it!
As if I needed further assurance that God listens to prayers on behalf of our furry (or feathered or finned) companions, I’ve learned that many Christian churches ranging from Lutheran and Methodist to Catholic and Episcopalian hold a special “Blessing of the Animals” ceremony on the Feast Day for St. Francis of Assisi, who was famous for his love of all living things.
Kevin E. Mackin, OFM, a Franciscan friar of the Holy Name Province, offers a delightful description of one such service in an article on franciscanmedia.org [link HERE]: “Usually the Blessing of Pets is held outdoors. But I remember it rained one year, and all were invited inside St. Stephen’s Church in Manhattan. It was quite a sight to see pairs of creatures—one human, one animal—sitting in the pews. The pastor joined right in with his beagle. Noah’s Ark was never like this!”
“It’s okay to pray for anything that is on your heart,” says Linda Evans Shepherd, an evangelical Christian speaker, author and president of Right to the Heart Ministries (link HERE]. “After all, God not only created animals, but He’s interested in the things you’re interested in.”
At any rate, I’ve concluded it’s absolutely appropriate to keep Oley and Champaign in my prayers and I’ve been asking God for wisdom to make the right decisions regarding their medical care.
The vet prescribed a diabetic diet for Oley and a kidney-support diet for Champaign. I would need to give Oley medication twice a day and bring him to the vet’s office every other week for testing.
At first the logistics seemed impossible. With the kitties on separate special diets, how could I keep them out of each other’s food? Besides, Champaign was such a picky eater. What if he simply refused to touch the food prescribed for him?
I worried that medicating Oley might prove to be an insurmountable task. In the past, when I needed to give him meds, he resisted me to the point of running and hiding whenever he saw me. How on earth would I be able to do this twice a day for the rest of his life?
And the doctor had to be kidding about bringing Oley to the vet’s office every two weeks, I thought. Both cats had let me know in no uncertain terms how much they hated vet visits – and that was when I only took them once or twice a year.
However, when we went on Facebook to solicit some crowd-sourced prayers, several friends shared their personal experiences of caring for pets who had either diabetes or kidney disease. After hearing their stories, Pete and I began to relax.
The good news: Treatment has gone better than we dared to hope.
We keep the cats out of each other’s bowls by feeding them in separate rooms. I’ve minimized trips to the vet by learning how to do some of Oley’s testing at home. And whoever invented Pill Pockets deserves the Nobel Peace Prize. Oley thinks his pills are treats!
When an office visit can’t be avoided, I try to reduce Oley’s anxiety as much as possible by giving him a mild sedative. One of the vet techs has invited me to call her when I’m in the parking lot so we can take him straight to a room where he doesn’t have to meet any dogs.
Lately, I’ve been offering prayers of thanksgiving:
Dear God, getting a urine sample from Oley was WAY easier than I thought it would be. Thank-you for inspiring the person who invented Nosorb kitty litter!
Dear God, I was worried that Champaign might not eat enough. But I’ve been sneaking more and more of his prescription food into his Gravy Lover’s salmon. So far, this is working. Thank-you!
Our experience of the past several weeks has even taught me to be grateful when our little darlings get ornery – especially Oley, since mischievous behavior signals that he’s feeling better. Here he is, eyeing Pete’s cereal.
“Some people criticize the amount and cost of care given to pets,” says Franciscan friar Kevin E. Mackin. “People are more important, they say. … However, I believe every creature is important. The love we give to a pet, and receive from a pet, can draw us more deeply into the larger circle of life, into the wonder of our common relationship to our Creator.”
“So when you pray, pray for the provisions you need, your family members, your church, nation, hurting friends and world peace,” says author Linda Evans Shepherd. “Only don’t forget to pray for your pet. God’s grace is big enough to cover your prayers for even the little paws in your life.”
For me, the fear that we might love and care for our pets more than we love and care for other people represents a false dichotomy. I love people and pray for them. I love my pets and pray for them too. This is not an either/or proposition. Love and prayer are not limited commodities or finite resources. There is enough of both to go around!