From Pastor David McMillan
Then the LORD God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.” So out of the ground the LORD God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature . . .
— Genesis 2:17-19 (NRSV)
Summer came into my life late one spring not long after I separated from my wife. My niece, who works for a veterinarian, called to say that a young family was looking to find their puppy a new home. With two small children and another on the way, they had more than they could handle in a six-month-old Labrador retriever!
I still remember picking up “Sunny,” which was her name at the time. The look of relief on the young couple’s face made me think twice, but, for the price of two quarts of fresh strawberries, this bundle of perpetual motion still seemed a bargain.
For almost 12 years, Summer, whom my daughter renamed, has been my four-footed companion. At first, it was like raising another child. She seemed stuck in the terrible twos: chewing on the rungs of my dining room chairs, baseboards, and shoes, refusing to come when called, and resisting every collar and leash made. There were days when she’d go missing, running off into the woods behind my parsonage. One afternoon, after searching everywhere, I came upon her eating the entrails of a deer left by hunters. She was sick (as a dog) for days!
But there have been moments and days of blissful friendship: walks and runs along the West Brandywine Creek, wrestling on the living room rug, long belly rubs, sitting quietly together, her cheerful disposition whenever seeing me, and her unconditional love when I left her alone for the day or scolded her for taking too long to do her business. A truer friend I could not have asked for.
Summer’s been slowing down for some time now. Her medical bills exceed my own. I’ve begun to accept that she is not long for this world.
Over the years, I have thought about what separates humans from other animals. Some say animals, unlike humans, have no soul, but even the Bible seems to suggest otherwise (Ecclesiastes 3:19-22). There have been times when I was sure that Summer read me like a book, giving me space when I’ve needed it, and prodding me to awareness with her nose or some wild antic when I’m lost within myself. I have no doubt that she is a sentient being although I believe she knows better than to let on. Over the years, I know this also to be true, she has given me far more than she has asked for, and because of her friendship I’ve been blessed.