Wherein My Dog Teaches Me About Judging Others

My Welsh Corgi, Berwyn, has separation anxiety. He whines when I put my shoes on, barks ferociously at the door when I’m leaving, and pouts when either me or K isn’t around.

We adopted our little Bear (as we often call him) when we’d been married about five years. That was the time we’d originally said we’d start having children, but Kate had recently been diagnosed with the illness that eventually pushed us toward adoption and I was still in the middle of law school.

When we got him, it was clear he’d been neglected (I’m very thankful that his owner realized this and gave him to us). He lived outside, away from his owner family, and the brief experience I had with the family’s kids led me to believe that they really didn’t understand how to interact with a dog. He was a worm-eaten, flea-bitten little mongrel, so for the first several months we had him, we had to put him through heartworm treatment, neutering and flea treatment. It also took him a while to get used to living in the house but going potty outside—especially because our duplex at the time had this brown shag carpet that was very confusing to an animal used to doing his business in the Waco dirt.

He settled in nicely and quickly became an inseparable part of our family.

To let you know how attached to my dog I am, I once (purely out of thoughtless reaction) jumped into the road full-body in front of a fast-moving car because Berwyn had wondered into the street in front of it. No one was hurt and that was the last time that Berwyn got to hang out with us in the front yard without being on a leash, but it was nevertheless an eye-opener for me.

So, since Berwyn’s separation anxiety appears to be getting worse—this may be a result of the children being in the house for several months and then never coming back—it pulls on my heartstrings every time I go to leave. More than once, I’ve seriously considered not leaving at all after hearing his plaintive cries.

As a quick aside, my proposed solution was to talk to K about getting a second dog. I figured the companionship (even though there aren’t many dogs Berwyn actually likes, though he’s great with people) would do him some good. Most experts say that a second dog is usually not helpful for separation anxiety—and can even make it worse if the two dogs neurotically feed off of each other’s panic. Since Berywn’s our little emperor of pets and seems to like it that way, I’ve gone back to the drawing board.

Before getting the sound advice of experts, though, I spent some time looking at local dogs for adoption. The stories of these animals broke my heart repeatedly and I had to pull myself away almost forcibly.

The whole experience has made me think about my relationships with people and with animals. I’m much more patient with animals—and, if you ask K (and I’ll admit she’s right), I’m an absolute sucker when it comes to the Bear. People, though, I have much less tolerance for.

I started to wonder why, to wonder why a picture of a homeless dog on the internet tugs at my emotions deeper than a homeless man standing right in front of me.

The hard truth is sin. Not the homeless man’s, but my own. It’s easier for me to see people as more responsible, more culpable for their sin. That’s reasonable in one sense, as I know that Berwyn, as clever as he often is, really doesn’t understand what sin is—he just knows it’s funny to poop on the floor in the living room to protest something we’ve done that he doesn’t like. But on the other hand, the way I feel about dogs and the way I feel about people shows me just how flawed I am, how mired in the sinfulness of judging others and treating them accordingly.

Focusing on the culpability of others allows us to distance ourselves from them, to justify our decisions to ignore them, castigate them or actively not help them. This is how we rationalize holding others as our enemies or as those we have no obligation to support.

Thank God that divine vision is not so narrow! That, as best as I can understand it, God sees us like I see my dog—even as God acknowledges that we have done wrong his love for us never falters. The closest I come is when I walk into the living room, see Berwyn’s anger-poop and laugh. Yes, I’m the one who will clean it up (this time, K’s up next), but what reason is there to be upset about it?

To be clear, these thoughts are limited to an analysis of the way I think about others, not about sin in general. I do not mean to say that sin should simply be ignored—despite our salvation and the forgiveness that God graciously gives to us, we ought to each be convicted to renounce our sin and become more like our perfect Father in heaven.

But as we relate to one another, this analogy stands well. We are told not to judge one another, but to be compassionate and helpful to our fellow man. I knew this, but I didn’t understand it until my dog taught me why. If I can leave behind my judgments of other people, I can see them as God’s children and be pulled by my heartstrings to help and to serve them. If I fail in this, I see myself as superior to others, and the first shall be last.

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