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On Having a Dog
O. P. Kretzmann

Two months ago in a sudden outburst of charity for the younger generation we bought a dog for Steve, now aged 14… We felt that he needed some companionship (outside of school hours) more appropriate than his aging parents whom he often considers pitifully square…

So we now have Torch — whose name I will explain in my posthumous autobiography… (It must wait until then because it will contain references to contemporaries who have barked at, and occasionally bitten me along the way)…

It is hard to describe Torch… He is a nondescript hound, about ten inches high, haphazardly black and white so that he looks like a disarranged crossword puzzle… One eye is naturally black — which makes it easy for him to get by when he returns from a party with friends late at night… Since he always looks as if he had just been in a fight, it is impossible to tell when he has really been… I have made a note of this for my life in an academic community…

Torch is either a radical democrat or an anarchist It is certain that he is no respecter of persons… Last week he, to our dismay, demonstrated that he would just as soon jump all over a bishop as over the janitor… In fact, he looked with profound distaste at the bishops cross and finally, in a series of frantic jumps, tried to chew it o… The bishop met him head on with a distinctly secular wallop… I have made a note of this for my life in an un-ecumenical world…

Torch is a belly server… He will eat anything, anywhere, anytime… His appetite is gargantuan… It is clear that he is the ultimate product of a process of natural selection… Under it the members of his family with weak stomachs died early and only those with cast-iron guts survived… This long and purposeful process has now produced a dog who can swallow a bottle cap, half a magazine, and part of an old shoe with equal enthusiasm… I have made a note of this for the next ecclesiastical controversy…

Torch has been a most instructive experience… For example, I have often wondered about the close, almost mystic relationship between a man and his dog The reason has now become clear… No matter how lowa man is, the dog is lower… The poorest, meanest man can still become a hero — a god — to his dog… In a hostile environment, this can often be tremendously strengthening… When I arrive at the back door in late afternoon, weary and worn, others in the household may feel the same way…, Only the dog is unchanged… He greets me with the same massive enthusiasm — no matter what I have been up to… He says nothing, but his bark and his wagging tail are momentarily the only flashes of hope and joy in a darkling world… Were you in a fight?… Did you lose a battle?… Were you mean and filled with hate?… Torch could not care less… You are still the same good friend who left early this morning — and nothing can change that…

Suddenly I remembered George Graham Vests, “Eulogy on the Dog: The one absolutely unselfish friend that man can have in this selfish world, the one that never proves ungrateful or treacherous, is his dog. A mans dog stands by him in prosperity and in poverty, in health and in sickness.I have made a note of this for myself… In this matter I should be at least as good as Torch

On a recent October afternoon, still lingeringly warm, “Torch and I retired to the small tree behind our house He lay down in the sun, and I shifted my chair to face the lengthening shadows and the setting sun for a backward glance at the waning day… Keeping a wary eye on Torch two sparrows joined us for their mute vesper, and a chipmunk beyond the tree clearly felt the momentary absence of danger… Torch looked the scene over with an eye that managed to be suspicious and sleepy at the same time…

There we were — the five of us — one chipmunk, two sparrows, one dog and one man — held together by the benediction of the moment… companions in our pleasure over the sinking day and facing together the inevitable night… We — all five of us — represented different levels of life with my place, by divine mystery, probably the most important…

But there was something else here … an alikeness, the destiny of a mortality held in common, a mystic oneness as the day closed and the coming night seemed to give us a strange unity… I heard the voice of the man from Tarsus in the grieving wind: “We know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now”…

Is this what held the five of us together?… a common pain… a shared guilt… greater for me than for them because I am responsible for this loneliness and this separation from heaven… Something happened in a garden long ago which casts its long shadow over the chipmunk, the sparrows, the dog and me… and ever since our groaning and travail have become the under tone of history…

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