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White Dog

Father Mike Steltenkamp

My white boxer also was named "Spike," but we just as often called him "White Dog" since we didn’t want him to get confused with his elder namesake (who, often enough, we called "Brown Dog").

This past February he died, and I cried loud enough to put a pillow over my face so that students wouldn’t hear me sobbing in my residence hall room. I often think of White Dog, miss him, and smile at his memory that produces a lump in my throat. I concluded that a blessing he provided was to reveal that God regarded me much like I regarded my pup.

White Dog was a wonderful member of the boxer nation. We loved his prideful gait (so characteristic of the breed), his sense of wonder and curiosity, his way of interacting with us. His behaviors were unique, and quite different from those of our other pups.

We could even love him when he opened the refrigerator and cleaned it out (all on the floor). On these occasions, he might act as if some other dog had come into the house and emptied the refrigerator. Or, sometimes he seemed simply to admit his guilt, assume the "sit" position, and endure a verbal reprimand (looking off to the side as if to be saying "please finish"). Inevitably, moments later, he’d be back in the kitchen as if nothing had happened, and good-naturedly seeming to ask "anything here to eat?"

If he had a toy (or, just as often, my shoe) he would hold it as if in possession of the most precious object in the world. A boxer who exuded confidence, White Dog was not as perfect as HE thought he was. Still, we loved him for what we knew him to be.

At some level, I could identify with this dog-person. Neither I, nor White Dog, harbored a "mean streak," and we never carried a vendetta against anyone. Our behaviors could be inane on any given day, but we were never intentionally mischievous. It is this primal identity—one that includes objectively both good and ignoble thoughts and actions—that I think God understands only too well.

When I got my first boxer, I read a training manual which said "your puppy will respond to positive praise, and will try and please you." As a result, I developed the habit of saying very often to my pup "aren’t you good," "what a good dog," "what a good puppy," "here, good one." Eventually, I came to call him "Good One" as an alternative proper name. When we got several boxers, we’d refer to them collectively as "the good ones."

Over the years, I found that when dealing with a small child or baby, if I said "aren’t you good" or "you’re a good one, I can tell," I found that the little child responded as positively as my pups did. Ever since making this observation, whenever I deal with a babe-in-arms or little child, I always say something like "she’s good" or "I can tell that you are very good" or "you’re a good one." 99% of the time, the child smiles, or registers in some way that I, a stranger, am somehow a trusted presence. One seems thrilled to be acknowledged this way.

Over the course of time, I extended this greeting to all God’s creatures. Such that if I see a squirrel, a cat, a mouse, an elephant, a snake, a flower, a tree, a fish—ANY creature—I’ll say aloud to it "aren’t you good" or "you’re a good one." I see them for what they are—unique in their creation—whatever "level" of life-form they might be.

One day I was thinking of Genesis, and recalled how God made everything and saw that it was "good." It occurred to me that God looked at each creature—and said the same thing that I had learned to say. Whatever the life-form, God lovingly beheld it and said: "you are good."

es, God sees all of us created beings for what we are—and we are not gods. We are 4-leggeds, or 2-leggeds, or swimming or crawling creatures—all finite and predictably frail. Yet still, God looks at us, even on our worst day and worst behavior, and lovingly, tenderly, understandingly, and appreciatively says "you’re good."

Knowing us better than we know ourselves, and better than anyone knows us, God affectionately holds us close and rejoices in our creation—much as parents hold their child, and much as I regarded a family member we lovingly knew as White Dog.

Read other thoughtful articles by Father Michael F. Steltenkamp, S.J.