Kathleen and I didn’t know Moka well; we only saw her three or four times a year for many years. But even though we were no more than “good acquaintances,” when we visited her home, or she visited ours, her pleasure at seeing us was pronounced. It was as though we had been friends forever.
Moka was the Welsh Terrier of our son’s family. She was diminutive by this breed’s standards, but she had the typical whiskered squarish face, the slightly elevated front shoulders, the brown lively eyes, and the coarse tan and black coat of her breed. To Robert and Jan, Zachary and Charis, she was one of a kind.
Moka loved fun and begged for it. Her zest for life was contagious. The request for fun wasn’t always disciplined because as pleasant as she was to be around she preferred to set the agenda for herself — as terriers tend to do. But she was never intentionally boisterous or destructive, just eager and tireless.
After being a much-loved family pet for nearly 17 years she became gravely ill for only a week recently and had to be put down.
The news has brought great sadness to the whole family but it has also caused me to reflect on the place of family pets in our fast-paced and often impersonal world.
The biblical story of creation makes it clear that the sixth day of creation was, like the five prior days, typically full of God’s creative energy. That day’s work included the speaking into being of the animal kingdom and, last of all, Adam and Eve.
It was on that day, “God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good” (Genesis 1:25).
Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion (meaning stewardship or governance, not mere dominance) over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth” (Genesis 1:26).
And in the intervening ages (Who knows how long that period was?) humankind in their discretion have singled out certain animals for a closer association, to work together with them, and to live with them as their pets. We can think of such pets, as we certainly do of Moka, as one of numberless gifts from God.
When I see on television the healing effect of a trained dog on a wounded or handicapped veteran, or the way children in hospital brighten when someone’s puppy is brought to see them, I realize in God’s economy there is a possible therapeutic value in that sort of human/pet interaction.
It seems to me also that the the service of trustworthy pets is made all the more valuable in light of the growing coarseness of our society: Children bullying children mercilessly on the Internet; televisions spewing into family rooms intimate details of life that belong in the doctor’s office; families breaking up too easily leaving children sometimes on their own to sort out their conflicted feelings or grieve their losses alone.
In this tattered society, a pet can give a measure of security and comfort needed by growing children facing these kinds of traumas, but it can also add a special quality to those with more normal childhoods.
Zach and Charis grew from childhood to adulthood with responsibilities to care for Moka. They made sure she was fed, walked, played with, and even at times given her medicines. They did this with commendable care and this was a great training experience for the other routine duties of life. All the while they experienced the joys of special animal companionship.
Moka will not be forgotten. She has left behind an acute sadness, but also a great store of memories. Her quickness of movement, her unquenchable appetite for play, the welcome she always extended to anyone who wanted to be a friend, and her special attachment to those who gave her care – these features cannot be forgotten.
And when we visualize her, it will be her whiskered face inviting interaction, her bright eyes asking for fun, and her beautiful black and tan coat that will frame our memories.
Photo credit: sWrightOsment (via flickr.com)