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  • Matthew Smith

What My Dog Taught Me About Jesus

Updated: Jun 22, 2022

"Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates correction is stupid. "

Proverbs 12:1

If you know me just a little, then you know that I love animals. As a boy I was always bringing home critters, much to the dismay of my mother. You pretty much name it and I probably had it tucked away in a tank, box, or cage in the corner of my bedroom. My love for animals hasn’t disappeared over the years, if anything it’s gotten worse since moving to the Haitian countryside. My wife often laughs and says that I look like Dr. Doolittle walking down the street everyday with a pack of homeless dogs following close behind me, all of which are hoping for a treat or at the very least a scratch behind the ears. What my wife doesn't find amusing is when I take the good vegetables out of the fridge and use them to feed the neighbor's donkey. In the last three years, as an adult living in a house and not on a farm mind you, I’ve laid claim to 3 ducks, at least a dozen chickens, a pig, several street dogs and yes, a worm farm.

However, only one pet has secured a special place in my heart and that’s Selby Smith Jr., a 110 lb Great Dane named after my grandfather. Selby came to us as a rescue dog from the mountain village of Kenscoff, just south of Port-Au-Prince. If any of you have ever rescued an abused animal you know the unconditional devotion they have to anyone who loves them just a little bit, and I love Selby a LOT A BIT! In return Selby doesn’t leave my side, ever. If I’m in bed, he has to be laying on the floor next to the bed. If I’m laying in the hammock, he has to be laying beneath it. Even when I’m using the toilet…well…there he is making for awkward moments. Selby is truly a man’s best friend, a gentle giant to all who visit our community center, and for the most part he doesn’t have any major flaws except for his frequent flatulence that is strong enough to peel the paint off the walls. However, this past April, I had my first major problem with Selby that required significant discipline and a lengthy period of correction. After the whole incident was said and done, it got me thinking about God, His love, and His discipline. Let me explain.

As mentioned, our neighborhood is littered with street dogs that have no real owner. These dogs, or what the locals call chen peyi or “country dogs” live under cars, scavenge for food, and make more vagabond mutts. About every 6 months or so it seems as if every one of these canine stragglers that is a female, goes into heat at the exact same time and it sends an un-neutered Selby into a complete frenzy. He will spend hours on our flat top roof, nose pointed high to the stars, belting out a bone chilling howl that slices through the quiet rural nights. We actually find these occasions quite amusing as we live in a country where the folklore of werewolves or the “lougawou” is a very real thing. We can picture our neighbors double checking the locks on their doors and lighting candles when Selby begins his heavy love filled bellows. These events usually last about a week, and in the past our dog has never tried to escape from our house or run away to pursue his passions. But, that all changed this past Spring.

You see, we live next to the ocean and the salt filled air, combined with the high Caribbean humidity eats through anything made of alloy in no time at all. This means that the giant metal double doors that grant access to our house and the community center need to be replaced every few years. By April of this year the gate was a mess of rusted holes, and missing hinges and latches, it was on its last leg. We had just placed a work order for a new gate when nearly all the female dogs in the surrounding area entered into their semi-annual state of fertility. It was the brewing of a perfect storm and one night while we slept, haunted by the pheromone heavy air, Selby finally let nature get the better of him and he uncharacteristically tested the structural soundness of our aging gate. The barrier never stood a chance, and as our dog muscled his way out onto the street, I’m sure the rush of freedom and canine ancestral prowess was overwhelming…the hunt was on!

Later that evening I awoke to use the bathroom and noticed that Selby wasn’t lying in his usual spot alongside the bed, so I checked his 2nd favorite after hours spot, the couch, and he wasn’t there either. I walked out to our balcony and whispered yelled Selby’s name, hoping to not wake anyone and that’s when I noticed the moon lit gate was open. I quickly made my way down the stairs, to the gate and out into the street. I stood there and listened to complete silence before I belted a quick “Selby!” Still, nothing but quiet. So I yelled again and this time from the banana tree silhouettes lining the streets came a rustling, and out emerged a brindle striped Great Dane prancing in great stride, tail wagging, happy as a clam. At the moment I wasn’t really that mad but more relieved that the dog had returned unscathed. Selby is intelligent but far from street smart because he’s been sheltered from it. Tap-Tap’s, motorcycles, and trucks fly through our neighborhood with little regard for humans, let alone dogs, and Selby has had numerous “close calls” when we have had him off his leash for a walk. He’s also terrifyingly big and menacing looking to Haitians, who are quick to poison or throw rocks at dogs of his size and nature.

I verbally scolded Selby, locked the gate and we both returned to bed. The next day I told my wife about what happened and we both agreed it was probably a rare occurrence and probably shouldn’t concern our time and effort as Selby learns pretty quickly what not to do with one good “BAD DOG!” However, the next night the exact same thing happened again, only this time when I made my way into the street to call for Selby, he didn’t return. Early the next morning, my son Gideon and I went out to look for him and eventually found him amidst a pack of stray dogs, tucked far back behind our house in the boonies. This time, I physically disciplined Selby with a few good swats on the rear end as we made our way back to the house. The next night I piled up cinder blocks on the outside of the gate to deter him from pushing it open, but he easily toppled them over, enjoyed a full night of mischief and mayhem and was returned to us the next morning by an upset neighbor. It was here that I disciplined him again by not feeding him all day or allowing him in the house. The next night I shut Selby inside our bedroom, ensuring that he couldn’t get out. Yet, when I woke up in the middle of the night and opened the bedroom door to grab a drink of water from the kitchen, the dog bolted out of the room, the house, and then the gate before I knew what had happened. When we found him the next morning he was covered in dirt and had rolled in something awful and I was literally ready to kill him! After several sleepless nights of worry and anger, this was the final straw and I tied him to a coconut tree in our yard with a bowl of water, determined to leave him there until the female dogs were no longer in heat, even if it meant he would stay tied up in this one spot for several days.

Shortly after I tied him up that morning it began to rain, and it rained all day. From time to time Selby would let out a whimper as he tried helplessly to shelter himself from the weather under the mismash of various tropical hedges in our yard, but I refused to unhook him. I wanted to teach him a lesson he wouldn’t soon forget. As the sun set, the rain continued and I crawled in bed feeling a tad bit sorry for the dog, but all the while elated that I would get a good night's sleep knowing he couldn’t escape. But, as the midnight hour approached the gentle rains turned into a thunderstorm and Selby’s whimper turned into a pitiful whine. I tossed and turned, listening to his hungry, lonely, dirty, rain soaked cries grow longer and louder. A few times I walked out to the balcony and yelled down for him to be quiet, in which his groans would subside long enough for me to get comfortable back in bed and then would start up again. As I laid there staring at the ceiling I began to pray.

The Bible tells us in Proverbs 12:1, that “Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates correction is stupid.” Ironically, for the purpose of this story, 10 verses later it also tells us “A righteous man cares for the needs of his animal” (Proverbs 12:10). I can’t imagine you or anyone else prefers discipline over praise and whether it comes from a parent, spouse, boss, friend or family member, discipline is a hard pill to swallow. It reminds us that we are not the center of the universe and from time to time we get things wrong and need to be corrected. However, discipline is training, it comes in various forms, teaches us right from wrong and can be both positive and negative. I discipline my son Gideon because I have a responsibility as his father to make sure he matures without enduring the consequences a lifetime of mistakes has provided me. God disciplines us because He loves us, “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So, be earnest, and repent” (Revelations 3:19). Discipline ultimately guides us to become the best version of ourselves, it helps us recognize our full potential. Like an athlete who will never reach elite status without internal and external discipline, neither will we recognize God’s will for our lives without His reproach. Now, my dog deserved to be disciplined, in fact he deserved a severe walloping of discipline. However, I do too, as well as you. This is because we are sinners, and the payoff for our sins against the Creator of everything including our lives is spiritual death. When our time on this planet comes to an end, because of our sins we are destined to be separated from God, separated from all that is good for all of eternity. This is a terrifying thought. A hell full of flames and darkness isn’t that scary to me, but a hell without a single thought or act of goodness…ever…is absurdly horrifying. Thankfully, we have this free gift God has given us, His son Jesus. Through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, we are pardoned from our sins. Also, through Jesus’ sacrifice, God offers his mercy. In layman's terms, God mercy means He doesn’t wipe us off the face of the earth because of our transgressions. Instead He gives us a second, third, fourth, even a hundredth chance to redeem ourselves.

"I will punish their sin with the rod, their iniquity with flogging; but I will not take my love from him, nor will I ever betray my faithfulness."

Psalm 89: 32-33

My dog’s mishaps were split second crimes, and most of my misdeeds are on par with his, meaning I often fail to see the big picture and act on what looks and feels good in that instance. Like Esau giving up his very abundant birthright to his brother Jacob for a bowl of stew in the book of Genesis, we sometimes do very stupid things in the heat of the moment, not caring to recognize the problems it could cause later on down the road. Yet, on this night, while I laid in bed praying and listening to Selby cry out for help, I suddenly didn’t have the heart to let him suffer anymore, and I couldn’t help to think, is this how God views our cries? The dog obviously hadn’t learned his lesson, but unless you and I are perfect, neither have we. We continue to screw up in God’s eyes, and continue to fall short of His glory. However, I encourage you to continue to ask God for forgiveness because this is one prayer He always answers with a resounding “yes!” I also encourage you to cry out in your times of pain, suffering, and even discipline. In the book of Exodus, the enslaved Israelites cried out to God and He heard their groaning and remembered His promises, and “God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them” (Exodus 3:24). God hears our cries, and His promises to everyone one of us include “hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11).

Near 3 a.m. that morning, I finally got out of bed, walked down to our yard in the pouring rain, and unhooked Selby from the tree. But, here is what I want you to take away from this story if nothing else. This dog had been chastised by me multiple times over the past several days, physically disciplined, denied food and love, and tied up in the rain for nearly 16 hours. But, what do you think he did when I untied him from that coconut tree?? He went absolutely nuts with ecstasy! His happiness and energy could not be controlled! He nearly knocked me over with unsurpassed jumps of joy and giant licks to the face! I couldn’t believe it. What I failed to understand at the moment was that my dog didn’t know that I was keeping score, nor did he care. He wasn’t stuck in the past, he wasn’t dwelling on his mistakes, he was simply overjoyed that I was there, loving on him in the present. This is when I realized the same goes for God and us. God knew we would get everything wrong, but He came to be with us anyways through His son Jesus. His love forgives and then looks ahead, it never brings up past failures, it never shames us from becoming what we are destined to be. What my dog taught me in this moment was that no matter the mistake, God always wants us to return to him. Not with our tails between our legs, but full of excitement, rejoicing in His endless love, grace and mercy.

Selby forever cemented his new alias as “Krusty the Street Dog” that week, but he also forever changed the way I view God and discipline. Lessons in faith, love, and life come in all different shapes and sizes, some even come with four legs and fur.

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