Catholic Transcript Magazine of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford Connecticut

Friday, April 20, 2018

Last month, we got a puppy, a cute and cuddly puppy that’s half Maltese and half Lhasa Apso, and that has an insatiable appetite for slippers and shoes and just about anything that smells like feet.

Shortly after her arrival, my slippers were chewed to shreds, and then I slipped on a "wee wee pad" on my way to the bathroom in the middle of the night.

I’m worried that this puppy, named Bella, with large eyes and a mischievous face, may have a criminal streak. In many ways, she reminds me of our last dog – a collie that looked like Lassie but acted like Lindsay Lohan and attracted more police attention than prom night partygoers because she barked all day and the neighbors were constantly calling the cops.

They wouldn’t talk to us for months because nobody wants an alleged felon on the block. But I loved her despite her idiosyncrasies, and when she was stolen, it broke my heart.

Part of the problem, when it comes to dogs and daughters, is that I’ve never been a disciplinarian.

"Stop that biting! No more barking!" I yell at Bella, to no effect. I even tried, "God’s gonna punish you," which is something my mother always said, but Bella’s apparently not afraid of me or God.

However, she compensates for her disobedience. She’s always glad to see me – when I’m wearing slippers and when I’m not. When I walk through the door at night, she starts barking excitedly and dancing on her hind legs with her tail wagging and her doggie eyes brightening up as if to say, "You’re my hero! You’re my idol! You’re the greatest guy alive! What do your kids and wife know? Trust me! Your boss doesn’t appreciate you like me. You deserve a raise! No one loves you the way I do!"

I confess I’ve never known love like that.

She doesn’t care if I swear or forget to make the mortgage payment or if I leave my dirty socks under the bed. In fact, she likes dirty socks because it gives her something new and exciting to chew on.

And when I’m sad, she comforts me.

"I don’t care if you loaf all weekend, I love you, anyway!" she seems to say. "I hate work, too."

"I don’t care if you have bad breath. Smell mine!" (Woo. It’s time to buy doggie treats that promote dental hygiene.)

"I don’t care if you got a speeding ticket. I hate rules, too! I just peed on the carpet!"

"I’ll be your friend forever … if we can share your slippers!"

I bought a book about dog behavior and learned they do more than eat, sleep, pee and gnaw on Cole Haan loafers. They can help high blood pressure and depression and add years to your life.

When she creeps into bed and starts licking my face, I feel appreciated and loved, and while I’m not particularly partial to dog saliva, I can’t resist that love. Even on a bad day, there she is, wagging her tail in excitement and waiting to roll on the floor and play.

I’ve come to the conclusion that God gave us dogs to teach us about unconditional love, and this is as close to unconditional love as we’ll get on this side of heaven. We humans aren’t made to love unconditionally, but dogs are, and they can teach us a lot.

Puppy love offers such a simple and profound lesson. I don’t have to impress her with my possessions or social status or bank account. She loves me for what I am and for what I’m not.

She doesn’t care about my job title, my gross annual income, the labels on my clothes or my resume. She loves me, flaws and all, in sort of a mirror of God’s great unconditional love. And that’s the way it was meant to be.

I realize that Saint Thomas Aquinas said dogs don’t have souls and don’t go to heaven, but I’m convinced he was wrong. What could he have possibly known? He probably never had a puppy.

Anything we love we give eternal life to, puppies in particular.

J.F. Pisani is a writer who lives with his family in the New Haven area.