Today December 10, 2011 Ozgoode the Yorkshire Terrier celebrated his 11th birthday. That would make him somewhere around 77 years old in human terms, so a good enough excuse for moving about a bit more slowly with arthritis pains and not seeing well enough with some developing cataracts.
I wrote about Ozzie a few years ago for the “CORPUS Journal” which I include, so these comments will go a bit further in my appreciation for this puppy. As I mentioned, it was not our choice to get a dog, and now we have two of them courtesy of our daughters. So these little critters came into our lives with some reluctance on my part – at least the first one. My relationship to the animal kingdom was utilitarian at most, tolerant at best – I did not understand people who had pets and I considered the attention given to pets, and especially the money spent on pets, to be beyond frivolous bordering on obscene.
Then suddenly we had a dog in the house, who required attention (even affection) and I found myself to be the one available to care for him. In those years I had a few periods of stress leave from my teaching position, so more often than necessary perhaps I would be out strolling with Ozzie around the Leaside district of Toronto where we lived. Through Ozzie I met many of my neighbours, and I even discovered that there was a Yorkshire Terrier club in the area.
Over the years I have often wondered WHY Ozzie has come into my life. I didn’t ask for him but he became mine and over the last 9 years has shown tremendous patience with me. We almost lost him last year when he developed bladder stones and was not able to urinate. He had surgery – and 10 years ago I would have been willing to put money on the table that I would not pay to have surgery for a dog – which brought relief but was not the solution. By the fall of 2010 he was already blocking up again and we saw that we would soon “have to put him down”. I remembered that in Peru an Oblate who worked in the jungle area near Aycayacu had developed kidney stones and he was given a tea made by the local people called Chanca Piedra. It is a composite word using a Quechua word for “break” and the Spanish word for “stone”. It turns out that this herbal remedy that was used even before the time of the Incas has many medicinal qualities beyond dissolving stones. I figured that at this time a herbal remedy would not kill him, so I started to give Ozzie some capsules bought at the local health food store. Within a short period of time he could go outside and get some relief in a short time and now he is almost normal.
So arriving at his 11th birthday is a particularly incredible celebration for us. We are not sure if it is significant for him or not. But again I must wonder about why I am involved with this dog and actually happy that he is better and still with us.
I am not a true believer in angels, but I would think that if there are angels they probably come to us in many different forms and more than likely in non-human forms. If these messengers are sent, they would be calling us to be aware of the universal principle of life that exists in all of nature. Ozzie is in that way my angel – I would prefer to call him my “animal spirit” or guide. He is a dog with a very strong personality and determined self-will. Others have dogs that are obedient and walk along with the master – stop and sit on command and beg and roll over for their treats. Ozzie does none of that. On a walk, he sets the pace and the course. A walk with the Oz does my heart no good, I could almost fall asleep on the path. He sniffs – for he is a terrier after all – and interprets all the signs left by previous dogs and whatever animals have been along the way dropping some hints of their passing. I wait for his message but so far he is pretty quiet about what he wants to say – or perhaps it is through him that I encounter in a different way those other forms of life that are not human. So I give thanks for his life and the special gift that he has been to me all these years.
Stray Cats and the Oz
A reflection on the influence of the little creatures
As related in the book “God’s Broker” by Anton Gronowicz, there is a somewhat curious story of a dream as experienced by a Polish Cardinal visiting Canada in 1969. In the dream the travelling cleric visioned a brown mother cat with six little kittens that were homeless in New York City during the coldest time of the year. When he sought help for this desperate feline family he was turned away, even by the Jesuits. (Remember this was just a dream, but his feelings for cats and Jesuits developed further, just in opposite directions.)
However in 1986 John Paul II went to Assisi for a World Day of Prayer with leaders of other world religions, something which was at that time opposed by the Commander of the Holy Inquisition (now titled Benedict XVI). Then and again in 1990, John Paul made surprising comments about the spirit of St. Francis and his love for the little creatures. With reference to such a key biblical passage as Matt 25:45 , John Paul II spoke of the need to provide “solicitous care” not only for fellow humans but also for animals, whose lives depended on the same spirit breath of the creator god. This pastoral concern was a diametrical flip from the position of a predecessor, Pius IX who sought to ban the S.P.C.A. from Italy. In Catholic tradition it was traditionally argued that animals did not have souls, but even Thomas Aquinas cautioned that we ‘must use animals in accordance with the Divine Purpose lest at the Day of Judgment they give evidence against us before the throne’ (reference unknown).
Well that alone should have us all eating veggie-burgers for life, but as usual some of these gems of Catholic social consciousness have not been widely circulated. At the same time we know that it is not usually the written word which so much inspires but rather the experience. John Paul II wanted this dream about the stray cats recorded but we are not told if it was an epiphany event in either a personal or pontifical sense.
I grew up in a devout and typical Catholic family, with connections to rural Alberta. Animals were property, cared for with the same interest that one would care for the tractor and the barn. Sentimentality with animals was not encouraged, lest one discover that the pet lamb was now on the table as the basis of the evening stew. I do remember that we had a pet Labrador dog, but it was stolen (probably by hunters) and that was it as far as having a pet in the home.
In my high school there were Oblates (OMI) who were great fellows and were instrumental in my future life choices. Not being a disciplined student, I opted for my final high school year to attend a Franciscan boarding school (quasi seminary prep) where again I came to know some marvellous teachers and good solid priests. Among both groups I don’t remember any animal stories, but I would guess that if I had opted for the Franciscan spirit my epiphany might have come sooner.
I joined the Oblates, did my “education” and received my degrees from universities in Ottawa, and then I was sent to Peru where I was ordained a deacon on Christmas Day 1972. I worked in parishes in the urban “barriadas” until 1980, and while I was sensitized to the “poor”, my relationship with the animal world did not develop. We did have in one parish a rather vicious German shepherd called Sultan who helped protect our property from the poor, but he didn’t relate to us as a pet. As “gringos” with more security than the people we lived with, our regular diet consisted not only of the usual meats but also tortoise, whale and guinea pig (a meal of honour in Peru).
For reasons not at all related to this story, I left the missions and the Oblates and married a beautiful woman in 1981. We settled in Toronto and were blessed with three children. I worked as a teacher and was most known as a union activist, which earned me an early retirement – again not related to this story. Of course the kids wanted to have a pet, but I was always opposed for the many logical reasons that would be too obvious to cite.
When my eldest daughter moved out she went to a university far away on Vancouver Island. Now while she was having trouble paying her bills, she happened to be smitten by the proverbial “puppy in the window” of a pet store in a mall. We all know you can get a free puppy or kitten or a dozen at the city pound or the local animal shelter, but no – my daughter paid $600 for a wee Yorkshire terrier puppy that could curl up in her hand. She named him Ozgoode, but family were allowed to call him “Ozzie”.
To make matters worse, she soon discovered that her university and social life did not permit her to properly care for an animal, and after some incidents of displeasure with house mates, she came home to Toronto for Christmas by air along with her animal – except only one of them had a return ticket. The beast was by now 1 ½ years old and totally undisciplined, an aspect of his character which has not changed.
Remember that everyone else wanted a pet, but when it came time to take him for a walk, guess who had to do it? Of course everyone reminded me to carry plastic bags to pick up his “doo-doo”. Now – changing diapers had been a step ahead in my humanization but my first stop in the park to “scoop the poop” almost made me vomit. But there I was amidst scores of other dog owners many of whom I would eventually come to know – my neighbours whom in previous years I had never met. The Oz got at least 5 daily walks around the park and would go for more if he could convince anyone that he was neglected. The Oz was reluctantly accepted as a responsibility but this little 8 lb. terrier soon wiggled his way into our hearts. Within days we found that he was sleeping on our bed, not that he was invited, but we were too tired to carry him to his own bed where he chose not to remain alone. (It took me 34 years to figure that one out for myself!)
In 2003 I took early retirement and moved to my parent’s farm on Vancouver Island. One of our biggest concerns were the eagles who would look at the Oz as just a rather large and hairy rabbit. The eagles have gone after baby lambs, so our fears were not exaggerated. The Oz has learned not to go out into the open fields away from the buildings, and in the spirit of St. Francis he has had to make peace with the other animals of the farm.
That would be most of the story, but for the comments of others, especially my wife and children. They talk about how this little mutt has changed me. Perhaps they exaggerate, but he has caused me to meditate differently and has produced a need to repent of my past sins against the planet and its creatures. I have no idea what he thinks or really what he feels (deep down). But I do have a strong suspicion that if there is an afterlife, my entrance will somehow depend on a good word from this friend who was sent to be my “animal guide”.
Other than St. Francis, once called the last great revolutionary of the church, the Christian world has been pitifully negligent in recognizing the rights of other creatures who co-habit this world with us. It took the Catholic tribe almost two millennia to recognize that slavery was inconsistent with following the Galilean rabbi Yeshua. The new story of creation causes us to wonder at the complexity of the universe, and most of us can barely grasp the insights of modern prophets like Thomas Berry and Brian Swimme. Feminist theologians like Rosemary Radford-Ruether, Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza and the inspiration of the R.C.W.P. movement (including our own Michele Birth-Conery of Vancouver Island) help us to discover not only the feminine of the other but the feminine within and the feminine of the divine.
Where are the proponents of a theology that speaks not for the other creatures, but gives their voice our language so that we may understand them. (For those who read Mirabile Dictu, perhaps this is what William Clery attempts in his prayerful reflections rather than using animal caricatures to voice human concerns.) There are many who listen to the songs of the wolf and the whale, but so few who understand that their songs are an echo of the divine energy much like our sacred psalms and the hymns of different religions. To a species so violent to it’s own and capable in the last century of such atrocities as the genocides in Nanking, the Holocaust and Rwanda (and many more), there is also a blindness and deafness to species other than our own. To our own detriment and quite likely an omen of our own disappearance from the planet is the daily extermination of species in the animal world and the continual abuse of these “little creatures” for our own perverted pleasures.
In the early winter of my own journey on this planet I am able to recognize the many blessings afforded me throughout my life but in particular those that came later in life rather than in the early stages. I fear for the world, and frankly I do not have a lot of hope for the human project. I am sorry for our collective impact on the planet and its species, in a way that requires grief and repentance that would have been illogical with other earth shaping events such as the ice age or a meteor impact some 65 million years ago. I do think the creator might have thought that the contribution of the homo sapiens group might lead to something quite different. But freedom of choice was required and perhaps this species was just not up to it. In millions of years another species might fulfil the promise.
In particular I give thanks to my daughter who dumped the Oz into my reality, causing me to be forever different in a way I could not have chosen.
(originally published in CORPUS Journal No. 3 July-Sept, 2007)