GIVING AN OLD MAN DIGNITY


I got a phone call from Mr. R, a sweet gentleman of nearly 90 years. “Can you clean up my schnauzer?” he asked. I can’t turn him down; he’s such a dear. Mr. R has been a cattleman his entire life, a successful one if you count that in his day, he had plenty of cattle, a nice big lot of land to keep them, a bunch of kids, grandkids, and great-grandkids, and most importantly, much respect and love by everyone who knows him. He’s retired now, ‘getting along’, as he puts it. His stature has shrunk quite a bit over the years, his being becoming quite slight and stooped. Mr. R is a distinguished man, although he is quite humble. He misses his wife. Desperately. To ease his loneliness, someone in the family gave him a dog, a handsome little fella he turned into a farm dog. Farm Dog follows him everywhere, even to the pasture to check on the few remaining cattle left there.

Now the thing about farm dogs is that they are dirty. Dirty like you wouldn’t believe. I expected to see a miniature schnauzer on the other end of Mr. R’s leash. Instead, I saw a sheepdog. His hair was so long and matted, if I hadn’t seen him walking toward me, I wouldn’t have been able to tell which end was his head and which end was his -um- other end. Farm Dog made his presence known by his smell. It’s hard to describe and I’ll spare you the details, except to say that apparently this dog who was supposed to be a dignified breed of ratter, was actually an alpha dog who felt the need to scent his territory by wallowing in whatever invaded it. I’m pretty sure this time it was road-kill.

Farm dog is an old dog, I suspect close to or older than Mr. R’s age in dog years. His stature, like his owner, is bent, boney, and slight. His teeth are almost all gone. He limps a little. He has a immense tufts of hair growing out of his ears. His eyebrows need serious attention, as does his entire coat.

It took me three hours to groom him. He had an odd way of looking at me, like “What the hell are you doing down there? Leave that alone!” Let’s say we communicated. When he first got on the table, he did so quite slowly. He kept his head down and his tail tucked. He looked at me with embarrassment. Yes, he did. I could tell. You know how it is when you look in someone’s eyes and they immediately look away like “I don’t want to talk about it”? Farm Dog did that. I had to bathe him three times. By the time he was almost clean and I had cut through most of the matts in his coat, his demeanor began to change. Head up. Tail up. Getting kinda sassy. Pulling and tugging. Sniffing like he was thinking about lifting his leg. I don’t think so, I told him. I cut, I clipped, I washed. His tail began to jiggle. (When it’s that short, it doesn’t wag, it jiggles.) His chest puffed out. His feet danced. By the time I finished, he looked like a different dog altogether and I had re-learned something I thought I already knew. You know, all beings are created by God, and He created with love. Agape love. Unconditional love. I think God loves every being with the same love, not just humans. Therefore, all beings deserve respect and dignity. Something so un-dignified as scraping the crust off an old filthy dog can be pretty humbling. Kinda like when Jesus washed feet. Kinda like touching lepers and the sick with His bare hands, and when He associated with some pretty serious sinners. A humble Man restoring wholeness.

I won’t soon forget what happened when Mr. R got back to pick up Farm Dog. The old man’s face lit up, he was so excited. He stood a little straighter, smiling from ear to ear. Farm Dog jumped into Mr. R’s arms and licked his ears. Now he was the spittin’ image of his owner; clean-cut, shiny, and very happy. “Oh yeah, my old man looks good!” Mr. R exclaimed. Farm Dog winked at me. When they left, they both walked away with dignity.

If I groomed dogs for a living, that’s the way I would want it to be.

It’s a lesson I must remind myself of repeatedly. Every being is worthwhile. Every being deserves respect. God would be so happy if we treat each other with the same love and respect, if we recognized each person’s dignity.

Ya’ll don’t forget to pray for peace.

Imitation of Christ

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