October 01, 2005


Dogs at Worship

Dogs go glum when people dress up. That's because dogs are plenty smart enough to know that their people don't generally wing frisbees or pick up dog poop while they're wearing sports jackets or pantyhose.

So Sunday mornings can be a bit of a downer for your average dog. It's nothing against religion, mind you. It's just that dogs and dogma don't usually mix. If it's true that all dogs go to heaven, it's not due to their church attendance records.

It might be different if they had the chance. Some canines seem naturally devout. I recently read, for example, about a dog who has become a budding Buddhist acolyte. After wandering astray for most of his young life, the dog called Hama has become a regular at a South Korean monastery. "The dog bows just like a monk," said a college student who'd been visiting the Buljang Temple on Chindo island specifically to gaze upon the dog. Some of the monks wonder what Hama may have been in a previous life.

But I'm not sure you need to believe in reincarnation to explain devout dogs. If there's one thing we dogs are good at, it's following the lead of humans. I think a lot of us can naturally tap into the feelings people have at worship. So I was happy to hear some are getting a chance to prove it. There's an outreach church of the Apopka Assembly in Florida that is open to dogs of all faiths. "A few dogs sing with us," according to Pastor Dee Renda, who brings her Collie Maggie to the Hymns and Hounds church service. "I've never had a fight or trouble with the dogs."

Personally, I've not been inside a house of worship, but I am a regular at a local church with a lake on its grounds. Mike says it's really just a retention pond, but it's a beaut. There are two fountains in the middle, which has something to do with keeping fish healthy, I guess. And that's good because it means there are ducks and coots and moorhen galore. There are tall, regal egrets and odd-looking wood storks and those swimmy, snaky anhinga with their wide, spooky wings spread into the wind. I glory in them all but have few reservations about hounding them off the lake bank. Many an egret has cursedly cawed my name as it rose slowly over the little lake.

I don't know if the way in which the sun shines on the pond is related to the way people feel about God. I think it might be, though, because the church has built green benches beside it for the occasional congregationist to just sit and watch the water. Maybe this in itself is a kind of devotion. If so, it's one in which even your average, ambling church-ignorant Labrador can participate with an open heart.

Hank, I bet you would love church! I know I would certainly like a church that allows my K9 friends to worship with me.
Dear Hank,

Gosh, your prose are more melodious with each post! And not a moreover in sight. I hope you are a good boy while Mike is out of town, and next time, maybe you could warn him about the stingrays.
The world must be a wonderful place for a dog. Unfourtunetly it is most likely I will never get the experience that you have. Churches aren't supposed to exclude anyone, right? I would think dogs would count as a little more in God's eyes.
Dear Daisy,

I too think I would enjoy church. I'm thinking maybe I could start out with one of those beachside sunrise services at Easter. It sounds like just the right kettle of fish for a Labrador.

Dear Lorrie,

Thanks for the note on my prose. I worry much of it remains doggerel but I do what I can. As for Mike, he has yet to truly master the stringray shuffle. Maybe he'd manage it better on four legs.

Dear Shakespeare,

My sense is that God probably loves dogs but that most clergy are a bit cautious on the matter. We'll see what happens. Maybe "hymms and hound" services will become the wave of the future. (I just love waves).
You guys are FREEEEEAKKKKSSS!!!! I hate to inform you, but Ecclesiastes clearly says "the soul of man goes up, while the soul of the animal goes down into the earth." Get over it. They're NOT eternal. They die and it's over-- kaplooey! Gone. Regardless of how much you want to have them in heaven with you at the right hand of Jesus. It just isn't going to happen, folks. Sorry, Dee and Pat. :)
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