7 | big dogs and belly rubs #Lent2022

Jesus says, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” (Matthew 5:9)

At Gembrook Retreat where I work we have two dogs, Toby and Louise. They are mixed breed working dogs, lots of energy for racing cars along the fence line, barrelling up and down the slopes on our property and playing tug of war with a stick with melodramatic growls. They greet visitors with enthusiastic and slightly hysterical barking. Generally they just want to be allowed to meet them, and to receive appropriate pats and adoration. This gets more complicated if other dogs come to visit.

Recently, my housemate brought over a dog called Snow that she was looking after for a friend. It was small and curly haired and nervy. She thought it would be good to introduce him to the retreat dogs, since she needed to do the watering and Snow had to come with her.

It was a nice idea. Toby and Louise were all attention as Snow was brought inside. Then they started muscling in, making short runs at Snow and barking and doing their best to round him up with a few nips to make their point. He started yapping and jumping which made Toby and Louise more excited, until all was in uproar.

As it escalated, my housemate swooped in and removed the offending interloper to another room until we could calm the big dogs. My instinct at this point was to say, “Well, that’s that! What a terrible idea that was! Snow is going home.”

But the teenage daughter of the household said that she was willing to try again. She armed herself with dog treats and a firm tone. We sat out on the deck and Snow was brought back and kept tucked up on the bench seat on a short leash so he couldn’t be so wriggly and tempting. Each time the bigger dogs got interested and headed over to see what they could stir up, they would be summoned back for treats and pats. It’s hard to maintain the rage when you are getting a belly rub from your favourite humans.

Personally, I would have shut it all down, said it couldn’t be done, and complained about my poor nerves like Mrs Bennett. My teenage friend and my housemate did not give up so easily. The latter, who works as a trainer with the Alternatives to Violence Project, knows that fractious relationships take work to improve. That separating the warring parties may stop the immediate carnage but real peace-making requires persistence and courage and creativity and making sure that everyone gets what they need. Ω

Reflect: When have you needed to work towards peace? What made it difficult? What helped? Are you being called to work towards peace now? What might build a bridge between the warring parties?

What is this? Lent is the 40 days, excluding Sundays, before Easter. Traditionally it is a time of reflection and pilgrimage. To help you on this journey, Sanctuary has put together 40 stories from people both within and beyond the congregation, with associated questions for reflection and prayer. A reading will be uploaded every day of Lent. This year’s theme is Fruit of the Spirit. Why? Read this. #Lent2022. Real People, Real Stories: 40 Readings for Lent © Sanctuary, 2022.

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