One of my earliest memories is being chased by dogs. I must have been five or six years old, and I was terrified. I remember fleeing with terror down the street, gasping with fear as I closed my family’s fence gate behind me, the feisty dogs nipping at my heels.
If I could travel back in time and watch myself in that moment, I would probably burst out laughing. The dogs most likely weren’t threatening at all. They were probably just playing. I’ll bet they weren’t even that big. But at the time, it was as if the Hounds of Hell were pursuing me. If I had been any slower, if I had tripped and fallen, I was sure those dogs would have eaten me alive.
For most of the rest of my childhood, I stayed well away from dogs. After that early scare with the neighborhood mutts, I was taking no chances. I had become a dyed-in-the-wool cat person!
These days, though, I love dogs. I’ve cared for Pit Bulls and Pomeranians, Terriers and Shepherds. They’re all wonderful. For me, All Dogs Go to Heaven isn’t just a children’s cartoon – it’s the simple, self-evident truth.
So what about those dogs that chased me when I was a little kid? And what about the ferocious dogs that growl and snarl at me today, when I pass by my neighbors’ fence line? They blow my whole dogs-are-good ideology out of the water, don’t they? They’re bad dogs.
Yet, when I look at those mean guard dogs, I don’t see evil. I see the basic goodness of an animal that has been mis-trained. Every dog can be taught to be obnoxious, even dangerous; but they also have the capacity to be loving and friendly. Even in the most threatening dog, I can still see that heart.
Why can’t I seem to do that with people?
The truth is, I’m a whole lot more forgiving with dogs than with human beings. I can see the tender spirit in a snarling, dangerous canine, but I’m often quick to write off people who upset me. I can be endlessly forgiving with chomping hounds, but when a person bites me, I’m not likely to get over it as quickly.
If it seems so self-evident to me that all dogs go to heaven, why it is so difficult for me to believe the same about people?
There are lots of theological arguments to be made here, but right now I’m wrestling with something even more basic. What makes it easier to forgive a dog than a human being? Why am I more quick to see each dog’s puppy heart than to recognize the inner child of my human adversaries? What would it take to begin treating every human I met as if all humans go to heaven? How might that change in perception alter my whole life?
What’s your experience? Do you sometimes have an easier time relating to animals than to people? When you look into the hearts of those around you, what do you find?