Although I love animals, I do not like calling them “furry angels”.
First, not all of them are furry. Second, although they can be sweet and helpful, I do not see them (for the most part) as powerful supernatural beings battling the forces of evil and striking fear into the hearts of all who see them. Third, if one envisions angels as plump cherubs, then I think when animals are called “furry angels” that it somehow diminishes their innate dignity and value.
They are brilliant. Each species, each individual, offers something unique. Birds, and their alert, bright eyes. Reptiles, and their cool efficiency. Fish, and their calming movements. On some level, even watching a spider spin a web is transfixing and calming. as long as it is outside and away from my home. Cats… well… cats can have that sense of when they are needed, and when they are not (which they seem to enjoy abusing). Dogs, and their ability to live NOW and to give unconditionally.
Which brings me to a year ago at the library, when I met a woman with a “shelter pedigree” golden retriever. The dog had been a stray and was found injured in a parking lot after being hit by a car. One of her front legs had been badly broken and was infected. It had to be amputated to save her life. She learned to hobble around on three legs. She did everything she could on her own, but the woman said she seemed to need a JOB. So they found one for her. She became a certified pet therapy dog.
She goes to libraries and sits with children struggling to read. The children, calmed by the accepting, nonjudgmental dog, begin to gain confidence with their skills and soon ask to read more. Children come in with stacks of books they have been practicing at home to read to “their” dog at the library. The younger ones go in dreading having to read aloud but come out with enormous grins, asking if they can go back and read to the dog again next week. It’s a fabulous program.
This dog was happy. This animal, who had been thrown away, injured, neglected, had learned all over again how to balance and walk. She had trained to be a therapy dog. In her healing and training, she began to heal people.
Children stopped and stared as the three-legged animal hopped over to the front desk of the library to be greeted by the manager. They took the dog’s cue, though, and none of them dropped down to smother the animal with sympathy. They respected her, and she respected them. As for the sympathy, well, she didn’t need it.
I think she loved the children. (I am projecting here, but I think she knew they were “puppies”.) I know she loved the attention. She listened, head cocked,as they stammered through lines and sounded out words, giving reassuring licks from time to time. Her patience removed some of the stigma and fear from these children who have problems reading.
Quite a few of the children stayed behind, waiting to say good-bye to the dog, saying, “I am glad you are brave,” and “Maybe someday I can have a three-legged dog, just like you!” One child sincerely promised to “bring an even better book next time.” They held her long soft chin in their hands, looked into her eyes, and said “thank you.” She almost looked like she was smiling back at them as she wagged her tail and gave a few small licks in return for their thanks.
I am rather humbled by the persistence of the people who would not give up on a dog who had been thrown away and damaged and by the calming way this dog gave back. She graciously accepted; she wanted to serve. In the process, she and the children heal a bit more. It is healing to stretch beyond old boundaries.
Even though I might not agree with their word choice, I can see why people call dogs like her “furry angels”. That dog does not live in her difficult past, she lives in her NOW. She is patient; she is gentle and kind, an agent of healing and compassion. Grace. Unquestioning acceptance.
Webster’s includes in its definition of minister, “a person or thing thought of as serving as the agent of some power.”
Not an angel, then, but perhaps, a minister of grace.