Devotion, faithfulness, a great comfort, these are all qualities we attribute to our dogs. But they are as well, the characteristics of a worshipper toward his or her god. Strange as it may sound, I think there is something of the need or wish for God in our love of dogs. In the same way we project upon a deity the human qualities we idealize, we anthropomorphize our dogs as we are so devoted to them.
Infants grow, children leave, spouses argue. A dog, like a god, does none of those. He is, and we serve him and call him good. Walking the dog is our liturgy and ritual, no matter the weather or how we feel. And along the way we meet fellow congregants in sleet, snow, rain, heat. Feeding our dogs and giving treats is not unlike the offerings we make toward greater beings. We have a need to be of service, to obligate ourselves to something greater.
And the dog is also the being in our contemporary world who serves as our link between man and Great Nature as bears and horses were in nomadic cultures, and as humans in esoteric teachings are the conductors of transformative energies between heaven and earth. So if we accept that part of what it is to be spiritual is to acknowledge our smallness as part of a larger whole, we adore our dogs as gods.
Many of our breeds arise from the dogs who kept watch with their shepherds over great flocks of sheep. The image of God as Shepherd is helpful in thinking of a dog’s nature and what we expect from them and so we worship them for their steadfastness. In Jewish tradition, God needs man to help mend a broken world-tzedakah. Man, similarly, needs dogs as the closest reminders, through their extraordinary sense of smell and memory, of the greater sensorium of man before machines. We also ought to be humble before dogs as representatives of the multiple animal intelligences more varied than our own and of which we know so little.
And just as there are studies indicating links between “religiousness” and health, there is much research showing the benefits of serving a dog from lower blood pressure and heart rates to greater exercise and the longer life associated with increased social interaction. Having a dog or a god, we do not walk alone. And what is more like prayer, than the private and confidential conversations we have aloud or in our hearts with our dogs?
- My 23rd Psalm
My Dog is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to play in green pastures: he prefers to stay out of the waters.
He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me among the paths
of righteousness for squirrels’ sake.
Yea, though I wheel through the valley of the shadow of illness,
I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy bark and thy wag they comfort me.
Thou awaits me to prepare a dish for you before me
in the presence of my friends and family: thou anointest my hand with licks;
the cup of my heart runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow you all the days of your life:
and I shall dwell in the house of the Dog forever.