My sister Abby has a three-legged chocolate lab named Trip. “Trip” isn’t quite as cruel a name as it sounds (though it is short for “Tripod”1) because the dog actually gets around quite well, using his single rear leg as a pogo stick. If he lollops and flounders a bit from time to time, he doesn’t seem to mind.

Trip was born with four legs. During the day he remembers that his stump is just a stump, but when he dreams that he is running, you can see the stump twitch, as if it still had a leg on the end of it.

Trip and I have this in common: human affection is, to him, an almost physical source of nutrition. His favorite place to be (and in this respect the analogy does not quite hold up) is jowls-down on the living room floor, surrounded by my sister and her husband and seven kids and whoever else is visiting and/or squatting at the moment (strays of all kinds tend to get caught in my Abby’s orbit) soaking it all in, basking in the presence of humans the way a human or a plant basks in sunlight.

What I love about him is not only his need for affection, but the way he doesn’t conceal that need. I guess guile isn’t in a dog’s nature, so he can’t be praised for being ingenuous any more than he can be blamed for smelling like a dead thing, but I admire him all the same. Imagine wanting somebody to touch you, so you (naturally) just nuzzle your head under their hand.


I voice the opinion that I wish I were more like Trip, and my unsentimental sister (who does not, she says, like dogs) says: “Really? If you were like Trip, then any time you got lonely, you would slink off to the kitchen and cry on the floor until somebody paid attention to you.”

She has a point. And I have in fact had days like that. It generally works well in the short term, I guess — if you mope hard enough, somebody does every once in a while come along and take care of you — but it’s not a good policy, because when you’re a human, people put up with that sort of thing only for so long.

I guess what I’d like is to fulfill my nature as completely as Trip does, to be as human a human as he is doggy a dog. If I could do that, I’d be a god, shining with love and authority, a healer of wounds and bringer of joy, swift as a cheetah and dexterous as a chimp.

As it is, I am — all of us are — half a human or even less: a human being is something that one day, if I work diligently and train hard, if I bathe in the Spirit the way a tree’s innards bathe in sap, I might become, but almost certainly not till after I’m dead. None of us have ever seen a human being who isn’t (compared to the original, compared to what God willing we will be) a huddled, decrepit, mangy, twisted, hobbling mess.

1 EDIT: Abby’s son has since informed me that this is not true at all. “Trip” was originally short for “My Triple Treat.” Apparently I just thought it would be funny if it were short for “Tripod” and decided that it must therefore be true.

8 Comments on “Dogwards!”

  1. Abby says:

    Actually, the deck is stacked against us. Trip is a natural being with a natural end, so he can just be himself, and fulfill his nature (which, as you say, he does extremely well). We, on the other hand, are natural beings with supernatural ends. So it’s not so simple for us.

    I know, there’s a joke about Trip’s pogo-butt and our supernatural ends in there somewhere.

    1. Now that you say that, I remember you saying the same thing when we had this conversation a year or two ago. Plus I stole the “what I’d like is to fulfill my nature as completely as Trip does” from something else you said. So I guess what I’m saying is, can you write my blog?

    2. ARM says:

      So, my first thought was to agree wholeheartedly with your sister’s comment here. But then I thought more about it and I think dogs are quite analogous to us in this matter. I mean, maybe there are wild dogs out there somewhere who happily live out doggy nature in dog packs, but dogs as we know them are actually hangers-on of human beings, and need our companionship to be happy, even though it means living in tension with parts of their nature like chewing up shoes and pooping wherever they feel like it. In a way, life with humans is somewhat preternatural for dogs, isn’t it?

  2. Nicole says:

    Great post. I really enjoy your blog- so many times, your writings have given me the words to express similar thoughts in my mind that I don’t know how to articulate.

    “None of us have ever seen a human being who isn’t (compared to the original, compared to what God willing we will be) a huddled, decrepit, mangy, twisted, hobbling mess.”

    This image reminded me of the way the nephilim in Noah were depicted. As a result of their sin, they lost the ability to fly, and are severely limited in their movement. Rock, moss, and dirt covers their beautiful soul. It obscures their expression and voices, making it more difficult for them to communicate. There are cracks in the rock where the light of their spirit shines out, allowing glimpses of their true nature. After they prove their love for God by heroically sacrificing themselves, God cleanses them of the sin that imprisoned their spirits. I love the image of the nephilim breaking open the layer of rock that weighed them down and springing heavenward.

    I look forward to the time we will finally shed all that weighs us down and be everything God intended us to be in the resurrection. But in the meantime, we are like the nephilim- plodding around on earth, weighed down in the muck of sin, only catching a glimpse here and there of the light of glory that awaits us.

  3. Sarah says:

    I think one of the primary things I am working on is striking a balance between being needy, but also to need guilelessly– to tell people that I need, what I need, when I need it, and acknowledge that sometimes I need a lot.

    1. You are doing a good job. It’s one of the things that impresses me about you.

  4. richard says:

    Well-expressed observations.

  5. AspieCatholicgirl says:

    Dogs don’t normally cry in order to get affection. However, if people give the dog affection when he whines or cries, the dog might learn from experience that that is the way to get it. And at that point you have trained the dog to cry.

Leave a Reply to Joey Prever (Steve Gershom) Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *