Skip to content

Spiritual Reflection: A Dog’s Life

“It’s a Dog’s Life…”- we can only hope so!
A reflection from Campus Ministry Director Chris Smith

“I think dogs are the most amazing creatures; they give unconditional love. For me, they are the role model for being alive.” – Gilda Radner

One of the unexpected gifts of my 24 year old daughter moving in with us last year was the presence of her dog, Ruby, in our lives. In the eleven months they have lived with us, Ruby taught us much about accepting others, noticing the world around us, following our own path, and marking the moments in our lives with unconditional love.


Accepting others- As a mixed breed dog (24% Chihuahua, 19% Poodle, 14% Pekingese, 13% German Shepherd, 11% Dachshund, and 18% Supermutt), Ruby reminds me that each one of us is uniquely created- there is no one else on Earth quite like us! Our “make-up” helps define who we are, our unique traits and abilities are part of what makes us special. We should honor and celebrate these differences by accepting all of our brothers and sisters and acknowledging the gifts they bring to our community.

Noticing- It only took one walk with Ruby to realize that she notices (especially sounds and smells) so much more in the world than what I could even consider.

“Dogs have far more sensitive hearing than humans and can detect much quieter sounds. Their sense of hearing is about four times as sensitive as ours, so what we hear at 20 feet, a dog can hear at about 80 feet. They also hear a lot of things we don’t because they can hear higher-frequency sounds.” (Psychology Today)

“They possess up to 300 million olfactory receptors in their noses, compared to about six million in us. And the part of a dog’s brain that is devoted to analyzing smells is about 40 times greater than ours. … Dogs possess a sense of smell many times more sensitive than even the most advanced man-made instrument.” (Phoenix Vet Center)

Taking into account what the world must look, smell, taste, feel, and sound from her perspective is a great exercise in practicing empathy for others. Her heightened sense of smell and sound are profound reminders that just because we don’t hear or smell something- doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. This opens all sorts of possibilities for noticing God in our faith practices and in our relationships- there is so much more to situations and to people than what meets the eye. Imagine what others are going through each day that we are totally unaware of. The pain, loneliness, anger, jealousy, or sadness that those we share our days with are enduring is not diminished simply because we don’t notice it. Ruby reminds us to notice more of what is going on in and around us- often by taking a new perspective and using all of our senses to be more aware of the world around us.

Follow your own path- Ruby is not trained by any stretch of the imagination- if you saw us on a walk, you would most likely question who is in control of whom! Thank goodness for retractable leashes- although I do still find myself carefully twisting through bush and bramble to untangle her leash wrapped around, over, and under branches off the beaten path.

Ruby reminds us to follow our own path- a path that we feel called to follow- a path that may not make any sense to those watching us or even those walking with us- but it is the path that we have discerned is right for us. At times, this may be a well-worn path that many have chosen, but at other times, we may find ourselves all alone chasing “squirrels or bunnies” on a path that is not even a path yet! The lesson I take from Ruby is that at some points in life, it is okay be on the smooth, paved path and at other times, circumstances may call us to embark on an adventure that takes us into the woods, up steep hills, through a field of wildflowers, or even wading through a waist-high creek.

Marking your territory- (Yes, I did have to go there…) Ruby marks her territory frequently throughout our walks, even when the tank is empty and she has nothing left to give- she still takes the time to sniff and leave her mark.

“Dogs use their urine (and sometimes feces) to mark areas they consider to be theirs. Marking their territory lets other dogs know that they are present. Urine also signifies the reproductive status of the dog and their ranking. Dogs who aren’t fixed (spayed or neutered) are more likely to mark than those who are fixed.” (Canine Journal)

Okay- so this is a bit of a stretch- but do we take the time to mark our territory? I am not thinking of marking like a dog does- but do we mark territory for our faith? Ruby has prompted me to ask myself if I take the time and effort to sniff around a situation or relationship and leave the mark of unconditional love. After I have been involved in a situation, do others who come along know that I have been there and that I have left mercy, compassion, and God’s love? Ruby’s marking prompts me to ask if we are engaging with others in our lives in a way that lets them know that God is present in their struggles and in their joys.

“Perhaps one central reason for loving dogs is that they take us away from this obsession with ourselves. When our thoughts start to go in circles, and we seem unable to break away, wondering what horrible event the future holds for us, the dog opens a window into the delight of the moment.” -Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson

This fall, no matter how dark things may seem to be, let us joyfully live life in the spirit of our favorite dog by accepting others with unconditional love, noticing what others are going through and accompanying them on their journey, being brave enough to follow the path God lays in front of us (no matter how well-traveled it may be or how it may meander), and marking our encounters with others with love, mercy, and forgiveness as we live in the delight of the moments that life provides for us.

Img 5713
Chris Smith Is our director of Campus Ministry. He also teaches middle school theology.