If dogs had resumes, they would boast a long list of services. As personal trainers, they get us off the couch to exercise. As wellness gurus, they lower blood pressure and help us de-stress. And as therapists, dogs provide comfort and companionship, especially in times of sorrow and loneliness.
One occupation that should be added to this list is spiritual guide. My husband and I had been talking about getting a dog for a few months, as we both wanted a canine companion for all our hiking adventures. Even though I enjoyed many pets of all kinds throughout my life, it wasn’t until my husband and I adopted our 6-month-old schnauzer/shepherd/malinois mix on May 16, 2021, that I realized I could strengthen my own faith through my relationship with her. In just our few months together so far, our “pandemic puppy” Sonia has already taught me to encounter life in the way that God intends for us: with joy, praise, and gratitude.
Approach each day with an abundance of joy.
Wake up at 5:30 a.m., walk the dog, make breakfast, take the subway, go to work, take the subway, walk the dog, make dinner, walk the dog, sleep… And get up the next day to do it all over again. Having a routine is a good thing, but I can easily find myself simply going through the motions. I sometimes feel stuck in a cycle, stressed, or exhausted. I just want to make it to the weekend.
However, this mindset does not reflect a life rooted in faith. When we approach each day through the lens of joy, we can see all the ways in which God works in our lives. Suddenly, the seeming invisibility of God’s grace becomes visible.
My puppy reminds me to take on each day with deep, spiritual joy. She inches her way towards my pillow and licks my face to celebrate the morning. She looks deeply into my eyes, glad to start each new day with me, no matter how much I grumble to roll out of bed. What a reminder for me to gaze in the same way at her. At the world. And most importantly, our Lord. Sonia walks to the park each morning with a skip in her step, wagging her tail. That’s when I remember to remain joyful in the Lord’s presence each and every day.
Appreciate where you are in the present moment.
My husband and I have gone camping with Sonia four times since we adopted her, most recently during the prime of autumn, when peak foliage cascaded through the Catskill Mountains. Every day after a campfire breakfast, we went on a six-mile hike through forests and meadows, around lakes and waterfalls, and up mountain peaks. Sonia was curious about frogs and fallen leaves; I was moved by God’s ability to restore and heal me in the woods.
It was bittersweet to return to the city after a week in the wilderness without Wi-Fi, and I was nervous that Sonia would not adjust well. I was afraid that my garden and city park would suddenly seem boring and small to her.
But perhaps I was projecting my own reticence to return to reality onto her, because when we got back to Brooklyn, she literally pulled me to the park, ready to romp with her canine friends, chase squirrels, and collect sticks. Nothing had changed, only where we were. I realized that every moment is precious, no matter where I am. This is the inner spiritual wonder that God wants us to feel. There is grace in every moment, even in times of longing or suffering.
Be grateful for the people you’re with.
A sweet, spunky pup who was found malnourished in Tijuana, Mexico, Sonia fortunately felt comfortable with us when we first met her. She quickly became an indispensable part of our family. As such, whenever my husband or I return from work, she greets us as if we hadn’t seen each other in years: wagging her tail, widely smiling, barking happily. In fact, she warmly welcomes all of our family and friends, even our cat, Shadow (who has yet to reciprocate Sonia’s friendly advances). This generosity of spirit reminds me to praise God for every person I encounter in my day: my husband, my family, my coworkers, and neighbors who stop me to chat. It’s through the people in our lives that God works his graces and shows his love. We should be grateful for their presence and consequently God’s presence in our lives through them.
Adopting a puppy came with challenges, but it was a big blessing in our lives. I thank God every day for Sonia and know that I should approach my life and the people in it with deep gratitude and joy. Moreover, I should encounter the Lord in the big-hearted, unconditional way that Sonia loves me.