Prayer helped this first-time dog mom and her pug through many challenges in life.
It happened a few days after we brought home our roly-poly, 10-week-old pug, Mighty Maximus. (He was small, but we gave him a big, heroic name.) I was trying to teach Max how to walk on a leash, when I bumped into my friend Gail. Gail had three Westies and was one of the biggest dog lovers I knew. She was also a pastor at our church.
“Ooooooh! What a cute little puppy!” She scooped him up in her arms. “Would it be all right if I prayed for him?” she asked.
“Okay,” I said, trying to hide my surprise. I was used to praying for family members and friends through life’s ups and downs, but I’d never done it for a pet. Maybe because Max was the first dog our family ever had.
Gail stroked his velvety black ears. “Dear Lord,” she prayed, “thank you for bringing this precious puppy into my friend’s life. Help her provide Max with a safe, happy home. May he be a dog that only knows human kindness. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.”
May he be a dog that only knows human kindness, I repeated to myself. What a beautiful prayer.
Soon it was hard to imagine our family without Max. My husband, Tom, and I had been warned that pugs were fairly intelligent and only moderately trainable, but Max was easy to love. We discovered he would do anything for a treat, and he acquired quite the repertoire of tricks. He also possessed the ability to utterly undo us by cocking his head and making his eyes go all big and sad. Max saw us through a lot in 10 years—my mom’s death, our kids leaving the nest.
One afternoon at the dog park, Tom and I noticed that Max was dragging his hindquarters. Our vet sent us to a canine spine specialist. The news wasn’t good. Max had an incurable nerve problem in his spine that would only get worse over time.
Another pastor friend, Kate, heard that Max was not well and invited us to the Blessing of the Animals during the Feast of Saint Francis. Kate laid her hand on Max’s head and offered a special prayer written by Saint Francis for sick animals. “Heavenly Father, you created all things for your glory and made us stewards of this creature. If it is your will, restore Max to health and strength,” she said. I blinked back tears. This wasn’t the first time Max had been prayed over, but it moved me, just as Gail’s words had.
Over the next two years, Max’s rear legs kept getting weaker, until the day came when he could no longer walk. I fitted him with a diaper and bathed him in the sink twice a day. Eventually I had to hold him in a standing position to feed him. The caregiving wasn’t easy, and it was heartbreaking to see Max so broken and helpless.
Then the vet said the words I had been dreading: The time had come to let Max go. I marveled at his spirit and bravery during his final weeks. He was just a little dog. But in the end, his big heroic name suited him perfectly.
The night before his final vet appointment, Tom and I wrote our own prayer for Max. The next day, as he lay on the examining table, looking up at us trustingly, we stroked his ears and read the prayer together. “Thank you, God, for the gift of this little dog that has brought so much joy to our family, and for the honor it has been to love and care for him.” The light in his eyes dimmed, then Max was gone.
On the drive home, I held Max’s collar and leash tightly and remembered the afternoon that Gail stopped to pray for him. May he be a dog that only knows human kindness….
It seemed so strange back then to pray for a dog. But now I understood. The simple act of prayer—for pets and people—is the supreme act of human kindness. I’m grateful our Max received that from the beginning of his life up until the very end.
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