Today is Detroit’s birthday—not the city, but my dog. She is four years old. When she was just six months old, her previous owner gave her up to a shelter in Kentucky. It was a “high-kill” shelter, meaning dogs are euthanized after a week or two.
Detroit, or Daisy as she was called then, was lucky to be saved by a woman who rescues dogs from high-kill shelters and brings them to areas where they have a greater chance of being adopted. Detroit arrived on a truck with more than 90 other dogs.
My friend Jim really wanted a dog, but could not have one where he lived, so I always thought of Detroit as his dog who lived with me. He named her Detroit because she looks like a lion (tawny colored) and I am from Detroit—Detroit Lions. My brother thought it an entirely inappropriate name for an 11-pound Terrier mix, but she definitely has a Detroit kind of personality, tough and scrappy. Her dog-sitter says Detroit is the smallest dog she watches and has the biggest attitude.
Jim used to teach children about the Sacrament of Reconciliation by talking about the way we love our dogs. Even when our dogs don’t do what we tell them to do, we still love them. If they chew up our shoes or favorite books, we don’t stay angry with them for long because they love us with such a pure love that it calls us to love in return.
He would tell the children that that is how it is with God’s love for us—that even when we mess us, God keeps loving us, and even more than we love our dogs. Then he would remind the children that “dog” is God spelled backward, which is God’s way of reminding us that dogs are God’s helpers in teaching us to love.
When Jim was sick, Detroit was his constant companion. Each morning, she would jump into his bed and lick his face—and he would smile. One of my favorite moments during Jim’s illness was one morning when I was ready to leave for work. Jim was in bed for his morning nap. I could not find the dog and finally I went to his room and asked if he knew where she was. His face beamed with a big grin and he pointed down toward his right leg. Detroit was under the covers stretched along his weakened right leg, as if she were transmitting healing energy or strength to compensate for his weakness.
She never shied away from him during his illness. She showed me that true love does not avoid what is weak or dying; true love touches and heals. Happy birthday, little girl.