I’ve decided to skip over Halloween and jump into the holiday season.

Briefly, the most overrated holidays:
3) any of those cheap ‘holidays’ that allow for government and bank workers to take the day off
2) Halloween
1) New Year’s Eve/Day

***

In any case, as I turn my eye toward November and Thanksgiving and then advent and Christmas, I reflect on one of the best things that has happened to me in a long time. That would be my puppy, Seneca.

The two-handed number of you who read this on the rare occasion I actually post something probably know about my dog. In the quite unusual instance when someone who doesn’t know me stops by, we are the proud parents of a seven-and-a-half month old puppy, a golden-lab mix. We found him abandoned in our backyard when he was about six weeks old, scared and not healthy, and we’ve helped him back to full health. As weeks passed since we adopted him into our pack, we came to find out that there is a pack of strays in the woods behind where we live, and he was one of them. (A second was abandoned in our yard, shortly thereafter, even more sickly than Sen was, and he was given to a no-kill animal shelter, where he is still being nursed back to health.) At first, they recognized him and twice tried to take him back into the pack. Sen chose to stay with us. Occasionally, they’ll show up again, but no longer recognize him as anything but any other dog. Sen still huddles close to either one of us.

He grew like a weed: when we first rescued him, he was seven pounds and could fit cradled in my arms. He’s around 50 now, and when he stretches out, toe to toe, he is about five feet long. When he decides it’s time to play and gets rough, it hurts. Getting him into his kennel can be a chore. We have hardwood floors, but when he sheds, we may as well have carpet.

And none of this could delight me more.

Seneca activated the parental dimension of my being; while we await our own offspring in what we hope is the not-too-distant future, we have a furball who loves us, often recklessly, always sincerely. Even when we can’t stand him. Especially when we can’t stand him. When he drives us crazy, when he misbehaves and destroys toilet paper, toothbrushes, pillowcases, DVD cases, poops in the house–all that frustration is merely the deficit of the love we have for him. He squanders the balance, and that is to be expected: after all, he is a puppy, and he’s not human. He has no real understanding of his actions, though he’s starting to learn what pleases us and is obviously aware of when he disappoints or frustrates us, which is precisely why he makes himself dead-weight when we try to carry him to his kennel for some puppy alone time.

It also helps that he’s adorable. He’s the star of the show wherever he goes: to the vet, the big-box pet store, on walks, in the park. People cannot believe the origin story when we tell it. How could an innocent puppy be left subjected alone to the elements? And how lucky are we to have him?

Indeed, it’s all a mystery. We are not very fond of where we live, but without our time here, we would have been robbed the opportunity to go through a parenting dry run that has been anything but dry.

In the same way, I can’t help but think that all of us are strays: we roam together out of necessity but attack one another to work at alpha status, we run the runts out of the pack, we scavenge for anything that we think will sustain us. We get hit by cars, abused and neglected by passersby, left to fend for ourselves against the elements.

This unusually cold Kansas City autumn morning, on our [usually] daily walk, I heard the strays. Usually, one can; the barks echo through the woods like shouting down a cistern, and with many of the leaves off the trees now, it’s easier than ever. This morning, however, I heard howls. Mournful howls. Sen heard them, too, stopped with ears perked and looked into the woods. His old pack was freezing. He couldn’t recognize that (at least, that we know of) but he instinctively knew the tone of those howls. My heart sank, thankful that we saved two from those conditions, but saddened that there is realistically nothing we could do to help these strays. We’ve tried contacting animal control in both bordering cities, and neither will take the initiative. Where we live is no man’s dog’s land, and it’s neither city’s problem. And, sadly, the humane societies here are overrun as it is: they would if they could, but can’t and don’t.

In the same way, again, we are all strays. Whether it is the homeless or the widow or the orphan or the poor, or the well-to-do who has gained the world, we are still strays in need of adoption. We need to demonstrate the mercy that was given to us, not through mandate or imperative, but out of the very fact that every one of us is mangy, starving and alone out there. Our packs are of necessity and, when we start freezing, we are willing to consume one another. And while we still poop in the house and have a propensity to take things of great value and tear them up in a teething frenzy–some might call it pearls before swine–we have the love and affection of the adopter, who is always looking to bring another stray into the house, to help nurse us to health, to discipline us not in ways that are dogmatic, but in ways that bring continued worth and new, restored meaning to those with whom we have relationships.

Seneca could have been just another mutt out there, he could have been run over by a truck or left neglected in the woods. Had the pack not abandoned him in our yard, we would have never known. And we would still not know what it means to love and care for another being unconditionally. Further, we would not know what it means to be the adopter, and all the thinly-veiled theologizing above would be nothing more than blank space.

If not for love, indeed, there would be nothing. Not even leftover fur.

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