I noticed two things when I passed her on the street. First, she was crunching on a katydid, and then there were those eyes! They’re white and penetrating. There are a lot of street dogs here in Mindo. Some of them you see consistently, others don’t make it more than a few days. These strays are often skinny, sick, and sad. I’ve had to train myself to ignore these dogs because I can’t afford to help them, and… well… they tend to die. And I have had my fill of death recently. At the same time, the attitude of ‘that’s just the way things are here,’ seems cruelly insufficient. Every once and a while someone will take it upon themselves to poison as many of them as possible to cull the population. That weighs on me.
A day or so later, I saw her again and she started following me around town. Then, she followed me home. After doing some investigation to ensure she didn’t have an owner, I decided to adopt her. I gave her a bath, bought her a harness and a leash, fed her, and let her have the run of the house. All was well.
She quickly chewed through her harness, made a mess, and showed me just how mischievous she could be. She was wild. She was a free spirit. She had learned how to survive in this environment eating mostly bugs and begging from tourists. I would take her out and let her poop in the yard, but she always looked at the gate like it was her ‘ticket to freedom.’ I knew she wanted to go back into the wild and live the life she was accustomed to.
I was torn between letting her go and keeping her restricted, and thought of the tired old saying: “If you love something set it free. If it comes back it’s yours. If not, it was never meant to be.” Could I let myself fall in love with her and then have her make her own decision as to whether or not she wanted to stay? “She would be safer, healthier, and better loved with me than out on the street” I said to myself. “She’d be better off.”
There was a hitch though. The dog, now named “Chuspi” (Quichua for Mosquito), reminded me of a troubled teen that we took into our home for some time. She too was a wild street kid. She too was difficult at times. She too was constantly distracted and yearning for a self-perceived freedom. She could have left at anytime she wanted. Nonetheless, we took care of her, loved her, got her some medical attention, and treated her as a member of our family. She had every opportunity for growth afforded to her that we could provide.
That teen also left because the wild called to her, and the carefree environment where she came from was more appealing than being taken care of and provided for. I get it, I really do. The wild has been calling to me from a very young age. She remains my ‘kid’ and she calls me ‘Papa’ still. I love her very much. We stay in contact and I see her from time to time, but it’s difficult for me to know she’s out there ‘alone’ deciding what she wants in life while simultaneously navigating her faith.
Back to Chuspi… Well, I decided to let her go and see if she would come back to me. We had developed a routine of play, feeding times, and some training. She seemed happy. When I opened the gate, however, she looked up at me as if to say “thanks,” and bolted. I didn’t see her for some time. I have to admit that my heart was broken. She’s a very cool dog, and so smart.
After about a week, I saw her on the street again. She followed me, wagging her tail the entire time. She followed me home again, so I had to decide whether to ‘let her in’ again or just give her some food and send her on her way. At this point she was more than just a street dog to me. She was symbol of those that I have entered into relationships with. More than that, she was a personal test for me. Could I put up with her making a decision to leave? Could I, after much loss this past year, do it again?
Again she decided to stick around for a while, during which time she destroyed a few more things, made my other dogs jealous, went into heat, and brought fleas into my home. There were many more baths, a lot more food, a bit more training, and I even taught her to accompany me on my mountain bike while I hit the trails. #TrailDog 🙂
She’s really quite intuitive, and she learns quickly. I was vesting my time, energy, money, and love in her. Then she left again.
“How many times?” I asked myself. “How many times could I love her and let her go?” How many little heartbreaks could I suffer before that began to take its toll?
She was gone for a long time. It was just yesterday that she came back. She was skinny, sick, and full of fleas. I immediately gave her a bath, fed her, loved on her for a while, and kept her close.She fell back into the routine pretty quickly, and then it dawned on me… This was like many of the discipling relationships I have had. Yes, she’s ‘just a dog,’ but she people-challenges me. This repetitive heart tugging and departure is in her nature. It’s not necessarily wrong, it’s just different.
How many people have I had relationships with that were just like her?How many have I taken in, lived and talked the gospel with, only to have them decide that they love their previous lives more than what I was offering? Or, should I say, what God was offering them through my feeble attempts in representing Him?
If I can’t commit to caring for a dog in spite of the inconveniences, could I ever really commit to a person in a discipling relationship? Could I let my heart be broken over and over again, and yet still influence in a positive way with what I believe to be a powerful and transformational message? Do I have the patience to deal with her idiosyncrasies over the long haul to her benefit, without expecting love or commitment in return? Is it right to ’take it personally’ if she, or anyone else, decides to choose another path? How long can I keep doing this to myself?
This is a statue of St. Francis of Assisi that is quite common here. Simply clad, bird in hand, and what appears to be a stray. I like how the dog appears to be ‘at his side’ yet paying attention to other things. It’s both intriguing and convicting. I’m no St. Francis, but this remains inspirational to me.
I think that there’s still a lot to learn in this analogous relationship with “Chuspi,” the insect eating street dog, but for now I’ll offer the following:
Discipleship cannot be contained. – “At best, it happens as lives intersect over time, and in the overlap of each one’s ‘freedom.’
Discipleship is more than just messy. – There are sicknesses and fleas, dirt and baggage. Other people have different ways of doing things that may seem counter-intuitive or even morally questionable. We’ve got to go beyond ‘getting our hands dirty,” and accept that sometimes it requires getting our whole lives dirty.
Discipleship is risky. – Every time we ‘lay it out there,’ our faith in particular, we risk rejection. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve shared my beliefs with someone, have had them discount it, and felt like it was a personal dismissal. It’s risky to consistently reassess one’s worldview, recognize where it needs to change, and revise our lives accordingly. Heartbreak will happen over and over again.
Discipleship costs. – If we’re going to commit to discipling others, sure, we must count the cost, but we have to be willing to accept that some of those costs lie just beyond the horizon of our perception. There’s no amount of due diligence that will prepare us for those unexpected costs. There will always be a ‘no matter what’ component in the Making of Disciples.
Discipleship is a kaleidoscope. – Take a bunch of shards of different colors, each one capable of causing pain by itself, and let them reflect off of their surroundings and each other, and you get beauty. Discipleship happens in colorful collision and reflection.
Discipleship is mutually beneficial. – In the making of disciples, we become better disciples ourselves.
There are many more things I could share about what I have learned these past months in caring for an insect eating street dog, but that will suffice for now. Maybe you could add a thought or two in the comment section. For now, Chuspi is sitting on my balcony looking out into the community, wagging her tail when some of her friends pass by, and waiting for her next meal.
I have decided to get her vaccinated and spayed and keep her close for a while. I will impose some limits for a time because I believe it’s the best course of action. I do believe however, that she may decide to run off once again, and I’ll have to prepare my heart accordingly.
I am reminded of what B.M. Palmer once said, “We have been given dominion over the works of God’s hands and are, in that sense, priests of nature.”
When it comes to acts of justice, the making of disciples, caring for our environment, evangelism, or loving our neighbors, maybe it’s just about seizing God-given opportunities to be priestly.