The phrase “man’s best friend” came out of a U.S. Supreme Court case from 1870. George Vest, a talented attorney, had a defendant who deeply loved his coon hound. The dog’s name was Old Drum. Vest argued that when a neighbor killed Old Drum for trespassing, the neighbor took the life of more than just a pet — he killed an important family member.

Vest famously stated, “The one absolute, unselfish friend that man can have in this selfish world — the one that never proves ungrateful or treacherous — is his dog.” Anyone who has ever owned a dog can easily agree with that. A dog is so much more than a pet. They become family. They give unconditional love. They are always there to greet you when you come home and can turn a bad day around.

I can testify to that. My Anna was a bundle of fur and the cutest little thing I’d ever laid eyes on when Lori brought her home just in time for Thanksgiving back in 2011. Anna was a beautiful golden retriever pup, just 8 weeks old. My daughters fell in love with her the moment they met her. So did I. Little did I realize just how important she would become to our family.

I had started my new ministry in Westerly earlier that year. I was spending more and more time away from home as I established myself in a new community. Rachel was gearing up for graduation. She was making plans for college the next fall. It was a busy time for our household. Change was in the air. Anna became the glue that held us together.

Anna was there every night to greet Lori when she came home from work. She’d get me up in the morning for our daily walk and help me greet the day. She’d rush to the door to greet the girls when they came home and would lay at our feet as we relaxed for the evening. It didn’t take long before Anna became the queen bee to our hive. She was at the heart of all we did.

That’s why last week was so difficult. We knew something was wrong. She wasn’t eating. She wasn’t acting like herself. We brought her to the veterinarian and heard those words that pierce the heart and take your breath away. She had a terminal condition. Even simple movement was causing her pain and distress. We had to make that decision that no pet parent wants to make. We had to say goodbye.

Someone famously pointed out that the word “dog,” spelled backward, reads God. I know that it doesn’t hold up theologically, but anyone who has ever owned a dog will tell you that there is a spiritual connection between us and our canine companions. Their unconditional love and acceptance, along with their ability to calm us down when we are upset, remind us that we aren’t alone. I believe that they are gifts from God.

So if you have a dog that has become part of your family, stop and give thanks to God. For God’s love for you is even greater than you can imagine. He blessed you. Your dog is a simple reminder that the creator of all things was thinking about you the day he or she came into your home. God knew exactly what you needed and sent him or her into your life. Praise God!

The Rev. Cal Lord is pastor of Central Baptist Church in Westerly.

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