By the time I get home after my two-hour commute from Manhattan, it’s usually dark and my neighbors have already eaten dinner and are relaxing, watching “Seinfeld” reruns.
And when I pull into the driveway – the last lonely outcast on the suburban street – the light is shining through the living room window and there, sitting on the sill, waiting expectantly for me, is our puppy Bella.
Actually, she’s not a puppy anymore. She’s a teenager in dog years and her behavior shows it, which means to say this mixed Maltese and Lhasa Apso has a bit of a problem chewing on furniture and barking for attention during dinner, demanding handouts and sometimes jumping onto the chair to join us at the table. Unfortunately, we break all the rules because we’re poor disciplinarians. The Dog Whisperer would not approve.
I suppose this is a result of not teaching her proper social canine etiquette, although she’s been to dog obedience classes several times and is so smart that it scares me. However, she’s from the Bronx, so she’s probably a street dog at heart and a little rough around the edges, despite her refined and pampered appearance.
“Bella, go get your ball,” I’ll say, and she’ll run to the toy box and rummage through it until she finds a chewed-up tennis ball, which she promptly drops at my feet. Then, she’ll bark until I throw it because she’s addicted to playing fetch, not to mention puppy tag and many other games she personally invented for her amusement and my exertion.
I can throw the ball 100 times, and she’ll still come back for more, barking persistently if I don’t respond quickly enough. Yes, she’s one demanding dog, and we often take directions from her, which leads me to believe there’s some confusion as to who is the master and who is the dog.
Every evening, my wife Sandy tells her, “Go watch for Daddy,” and she will sit on the back of the sofa, staring at the street, waiting for me to arrive. When the car pulls into the driveway, her tail starts to wag, tentatively at first, but then more vigorously. Pretty soon she’s jumping around and barking insanely for Sandy to open the door. It’s as if she hasn’t seen me in years.
Every night, we go through the same excited ritual. She prances around on two feet until I rub her belly and give her a treat, at which point she runs from one room to the other, around chairs and under the table, waiting for me to pursue her and play puppy tag. When she gets tired, she insists on sitting on my lap so I can pet her.
She is, I realize, our fifth daughter. And I realize another thing: God sent her to us. Does that sound crazy? It’s not. I’m convinced it’s true, and I have at least four friends who say the same thing about their pets, that they are gifts from God. God sent them, they believe, to teach us about his infinite love. They are simple creatures designed to teach profound truths.
A few weeks ago, I had lunch with an old friend, Suzanne, and when I took out my cell phone to show her a picture of Bella, she promptly showed me a picture of The Cat – that’s the name of a stray cat she and her husband Tom took in when they first got married.
In the photo, a common gray street cat is staring at a window where sunlight is streaming in and illuminating her, almost angelically.
Over the years, Suzanne and I have had our share of debates about faith. She has never been particularly religious in the traditional sense; however, she looked at me as she sipped her tea and said, “God sent this cat to us. We believe that.”
And then she explained how a stray cat taught them both to trust and love more deeply, how a stray cat helped them realize that God does intervene in our lives to teach us the wonders of his love in simple ways you’d never imagine possible.
After dinner, I usually lie on the sofa for a while, and Bella jumps up to join me. She licks my face and I let her. This is puppy love, and it’s as free and abundant as spring rain. She’s taught me more about love than any book I’ve ever read.
During the day, she follows Sandy around from room to room. They eat breakfast together, they play together, they do household chores together and there is no closer relationship.
And at night, when Sandy and I lie side by side praying the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, Bella jumps up between us and rests her head on my chest. Then, she’ll interrupt our prayer time by insisting I throw the ball.
Yes, we’re convinced God sent her to us – even though God didn’t teach her manners. She’s an agent of God who has a wet nose and works minor miracles.
J.F. Pisani is a writer who lives with his family in the New Haven area.