Dog is Love” is a popular bumper sticker in western North Carolina where I live. It seems to be a takeoff of “God is love” from 1 John 4:8.
I am not certain whether the people who sport this bumper sticker are anti-God people, or people who are simply committed dog-lovers, or maybe both. But whatever their feelings might be, I like the bumper sticker for my own reasons.
“White Creek’s Haley’s Comet” (registered dogs have long names) was a small, energetic black Labrador retriever. She was just over a year old when she was adopted into the Williams family. Because her original owner had been verbally and physically abusive, Haley was tentative and cowered quite easily. Our son Glenn, being the tenderhearted young man he is, was patient with Haley and she slowly regained her confidence and became the healthy, spirited dog God had created her to be.
Labs will play all day if they can, and their favorite activity seems to be the simple game of fetch. Haley played fetch with any object she could get in her mouth—a tennis ball, a tin can, a stick, and her favorite—an apple. When the apples would ripen on the trees in early fall, nobody was happier than Haley. She would actually grab apples off the tree in her mouth, then after an extended game of fetch she would curl up on the ground and eat them.
Just by being the creature God created her to be, Haley taught me a lot about how God relates to us. Her love was ever-present and unconditional. She was always excited, always happy and always ready to interact with any member of the family. She was thrilled to see us when we’d been gone and loved to be near us and listen to our conversations.
The day she died was more difficult than I could’ve imagined. I have often considered adamant pet-lovers to be silly. After all, shouldn’t our love be directed toward people? But Haley’s death was a painful loss—loss of the partner who ran ahead on walks through the orchard and around the pond, loss of the entertainer who fetched floating objects out of the pond and sounded like a motor boat when she swam back to shore, loss of the youthful exuberance as she would sprint across the yard and snatch a thrown ball from the air, and most of all loss of a dear friend who always loved and always accepted. I wept over her.
Haley’s life taught me the truth behind the bumper sticker, “Dog is Love.” But behind that truth is a far greater truth: “God is Love.” God is not just the creator of love; he himself is love—the fullness of giving, sacrificing, waiting, longing, passion, excitement and joy in the eternal relationship of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And Jesus Christ, in making us one with him, has drawn us into his own relationship with the Father as the Father’s beloved Son.
God created animals for humanity’s benefit and pleasure, and Haley brought my family and me great joy and great love in her short five years. On the day of her death, I took a walk alone around the pond. I remembered Haley and I talked to the God of love.
God created animals for humanity’s benefit and pleasure, and Haley brought my family and me great joy and great love.
I pondered how God’s extravagant love is magnetic, compelling and irresistible. He loves us so much that he sent Jesus, who will pursue us relentlessly even when we are walking away from him or caught up in the storms and cares of life.
Francis Thompson’s poem Hound of Heaven is a fitting close to this tribute to White Creek’s Haley’s Comet. Thompson was a man who did not fight for any flag or any particular religion, but simply tells the mysterious story of his own soul, and vicariously the story becomes our own.
Through the struggles and pursuits there enters a wonderful and exciting new element. The poem describes successive people following after the ideal, “which, like some receding star, travelled before its pilgrims through the night.” Here the ideal is no longer passive, a thing to be pursued. It halts for its pilgrims—“the star which chose to stoop and stay for us.” It now turns upon them and pursues them. The ideal is alive and aware—a real and living force among the great forces of the universe. It is out after people, and in this great poem we are to watch it hunting a soul down as a hound would pursue a fleeing convict. This religious idealism is none other than Jesus, the Hound of Heaven who in love pursues all of humanity.
Haley was a remarkable pet who helped this pilgrim better know Jesus, both in her life and in her death.
Haley, you will be missed.
Greg Williams is the Director of Grace Communion International’s Generations Ministries. He lives in Georgia with his wife Susan.