Category Archives: Animal lessons

Sometimes Angels Have Whiskers

FullSizeRender-1I couldn’t help but notice the ancient rat terrier sitting next to the wheelchair-bound man in the parkway. Both were fixated on the tree service workers trimming the gangly branches of a giant maple in the front yard just across the street. The terrier quickly shifted its attention to me as I approached.

Dogs. They’re such icebreakers.

I asked the gentleman if I could pet his dog and he said of course. A half-hour later, Bill and TK were my new friends.

TK, I learned, was short for “Tiny King”. Clearly, he was quite something in his day but he’s 16 now and well, not the ball of energy he once was. (I understand, TK.) Gray face, cloudy eyes, but still sporting an “I’ve got this” attitude; he was a typical terrier, oblivious to his limitations. He reminded me of my funny Jack Russell, Smudge, who died this year at 18. We used to call her a “little thug in a clown suit”.

TK had stopped me in my tracks, but it was Bill’s story that broke my heart. Continue reading Sometimes Angels Have Whiskers

Choosing to gulp, not sip

I stood transfixed on the lanai, watching a river otter cavort on the opposite bank of the small pond behind my rented condo. It rolled on its back in the grass, stood up, then threw itself down and rolled some more before finally slinking back into the water and swimming away.

Now I don’t know if otters feel joy; I kind of doubt it. For all I know, its back was itching and that’s how otters scratch. But that creature was so playful and unguarded, so totally in the moment, I couldn’t help but smile.

32 Curious DolphinI’ve felt the same pleasure watching dolphins frolic alongside a boat or kayak. They leap out of the water with those ubiquitous grins and seem for all the world to be truly enjoying themselves. Are they? I don’t know, but something about them makes my spirit soar.  Continue reading Choosing to gulp, not sip

What’s Missing in the Parable of the Lost Sheep

sheepThe sheep is just doing what sheep do. It’s probably picking its way along an uneven path, following the ewe ahead of it, and somehow misses its footing on the side of a hillock. It could be injured from the fall or maybe caught in brambles at the bottom, but regardless, now it is alone and vulnerable. Time is of the essence.

When the shepherd realizes one of his flock is missing, he has to act quickly; he has a very narrow window of opportunity. He knows the other sheep will instinctively huddle together as a group and be safe, at least temporarily, so he hurries off to find the lost animal before it is picked off by a predator.

This is the part I love about the Biblical account in Luke’s gospel:
When the shepherd spots the missing sheep, Continue reading What’s Missing in the Parable of the Lost Sheep

Relaxation Lessons from a Jack Russell Terrier


Young Smudge
Young Smudge

Relaxing never came easily to Smudge. Indeed, for most of her life, she has struggled mightily with it. Terriers (especially Jack Russells) are just like that; if you’ve ever had one, you understand. Now in her twilight years (she’s 17+), she has become something of an authority on this topic (among others) and I’ve picked up some useful tips from her.

Whether you’re going on vacation, planning a stay-cation, or just enjoying a day off, here are 10 things Smudge has taught me that will help you relax and replenish: Continue reading Relaxation Lessons from a Jack Russell Terrier

What I Learned from a Flat-Footed Preacher

Jesus has been called the master storyteller, and with good reason. His parables were compelling and oh-so-relatable. His illustrations from daily life immediately drew people in.

I always imagined He must have used humor and dramatic flourishes when He was telling His stories. Sometimes I even pictured Him singing parts of the lesson.

Think about it. The people were so enthralled, they crowded around Him constantly to hear more. Would they have done that for a dry lecture in the hot sun, surrounded by other sweaty humans? I didn’t think so.

And then I went to Alaska.

breaching whaleIt’s been some years now since my daughter and I took this trip. We joined my parents for a cruise organized by our denomination down the Inside Passage from Seward to Ketchikan. The scenery was spectacular, of course, and the weather unseasonably perfect.

Frankly, as I stood on the deck of the ship, I fully expected to see Jesus return at any moment through those amazing cloud formations.

Yet there was another aspect of that week-long cruise that stunned and delighted me even more than my surroundings. Continue reading What I Learned from a Flat-Footed Preacher

If you want a stable relationship, get a horse

Largo wants a carrotWe laugh at that because it rings true. Sometimes we can feel like the only place to find a “stable” relationship is, well, in a stable. That’s especially true if we’ve been burned relationally more than a few times. We start to yearn for settled, reliable, safe. But stable relationships are few and far between, as much as we may wish that weren’t so.

Here’s the thing: My sister has horses; four of them and she loves them like children. But she will be among the first to tell you, the only thing stable about them is where they live.

They’re beautiful and unpredictable, thrilling and a little – or a lot – dangerous. (Ask her sometime about dislocated shoulders, torn ACLs and loosened teeth.) To watch them run with wild abandon is to be inspired and awed. (Even the old guys.)

I’ve always loved how God calls attention to the horse’s power and beauty in the Old Testament book of Job: “Do you give the horse its strength or clothe its neck with a flowing mane?” (Job 39:19)  At the final judgment, we are told Jesus will ride in victory on a majestic white horse (Revelation 19:11). That’s just cool!

Which brings me to this: When we get right down to it, is a “stable” relationship really what we want out of life?

Recently I was going through a workbook/journal I had kept in connection with a book I read about 10 years ago. I came across something I had written then that not only reminded me of where I was at that time, but how far I’ve come. Here it is (don’t laugh): Continue reading If you want a stable relationship, get a horse

Smudge the Dog Weighs in on: FOCUS

If Smudge could talk, she would tell you there is nothing in the world right now except that tennis ball and the very real possibility that someone might kick it or throw it.  You could dump an ice chest full of Gatorade on her head like they do to the winning coaches at the end of a championship football game, and she would shake it off and be right back on her target.

She is never going to stop being focused; that’s just part of being a Jack Russell.

When I was first starting out in my career, someone called me “intense” and I heard it as a criticism.  It sounded like an annoying personal trait, like I had taken focused too far.   For years, I tried really, really hard to be laid back.

Wow, I’m just not.

I value clarity and I admit to being a bit of a perfectionist.  I like to be absolutely sure about things if at all possible.  I hate having to go back and correct mistakes and clean up messes when – if I had just been paying closer attention in the first place – I’d be moving forward, not backtracking because of a major derailment.  And I can be very hard on myself, can you tell?

Smudge?  Not so much.

She never worries about screwing up.  She never worries, period.  She is focused with anticipation, not fear.  She is expecting a good time, something positive.   She wants to play and let me tell you, she’s hard to ignore.

Ah, and if you engage with her, Smudge will be all in, chasing and retrieving that ball till it’s slimy and disgusting.  She’s really good at it, too, even at 15½ .  (If I had ever learned to throw a Frisbee, maybe I could have trained her to be truly competitive as a Frisbee dog.)

The game is over when she finally collapses in exhaustion, which doesn’t take nearly as long as it used to.  But here’s the thing – she never even pretends to be laid back; she simply throws her whole quivering self into whatever she’s doing.

That’s just who she is.

I can’t change my basic nature any more than Smudge can stop being a Jack Russell, but I can learn to pay attention to what is motivating my intensity (there, I said it) and if it’s negative, I can make a conscious effort to let it go.  Yes, I can relax.

“Relax” is a command Smudge has yet to learn.

What motivates you to focus?

Rats with Good PR

Trespasser in my yard this morning

Sometimes you can get away with being destructive and annoying, as long as you’re cute, have a fluffy tail . . . and good PR.  Squirrels are like that.  They are members of the rodent family, but they are from the better-looking side.

We tend to treat everyone – including wild animals – differently when they’re adorable.  

We see squirrels in our yards and trees, in our parks, on running paths, near our picnic tables, and we don’t freak out.  We’re amused by their lightning-fast antics.  Some people even toss them a scrap of food and encourage them to come closer.

It’s true that given a chance, they’ll raid your bird feeder and dig holes in places you wish they wouldn’t.  They sometimes get in your attic and have families up there, which is generally frowned upon.

But they’re frisky and furtive and they mainly keep their distance.  When they do come close, we’re not particularly threatened (unless your mother has warned you that “wild animals that act docile are probably rabid!”)

But put a rat the same size in the same locations and we’d be screaming our lungs out (and I, for one, would be googling the nearest exterminator).  We wouldn’t be encouraging them with food or thinking they’re precious.

It’s all in the packaging.

People can be like that.  They can look good on the outside and behave according to others’ expectations.  They can be industrious and well-behaved, even entertaining.  But maybe they’re not really like that on the inside.

Maybe we’re all rats; some of us just have better PR.

What do you think?