Cu offered affection without expecting anything in return. Photo by Francis Campbell

Francis Campbell: Our faithful friend set a golden standard

  • January 5, 2018
The inverted spelling that links the words God and dog seems an unlikely coincidence.

God may well have created dog to provide a living example of His enduring gift of unconditional love.

A couple of weeks ago, we had to say goodbye to our beautiful golden retriever, Cu, a faithful companion who had helped nuzzle our son and daughter out of childhood, through their teens and into adulthood. Cu’s life really was centred on love and loyalty for the people with whom he wanted to share each waking moment of his day, along with a considerable number of his sleeping moments.

No matter what kind of a day we had, coming home to Cu meant a vigorous wag of the tail and a nudge of his head as he waited patiently for well-deserved patting. With each pat, Cu moved closer and closer to soak up more.

No matter what his family members might have done that day, regardless of how uncaring or shamelessly unsympathetic we may have been with others we encountered, when we returned to Cu we were accepted unconditionally. He didn’t focus on warts and faults but always accepted us just as we were.

When the tumour in his jaw developed and continued to grow, we knew Cu’s days were swiftly coming to a close. We tried to do special things for Cu, plying him with extra time and treats that he hadn’t enjoyed regularly. We tried to compensate for the times we didn’t return Cu’s affection, the times we may have taken him for granted.

But Cu had never offered his affection expecting anything in return. He offered what he had to give without condition. Sure, regular water, kibbles and walks were a bonus part of the dog-human deal for him, but he truly did not operate on a quid pro quo basis.

And when the fateful day came, we loaded him into the car for the short drive to the local animal hospital. Cu greeted the reception personnel and the veterinarian as he had greeted almost everyone he had met during his 11 and a half years with us — a fervent wag of the tail, a nuzzle with the hope of being petted and the closest thing to a smile that a dog can muster.

Cu’s human family of four tried to make his final minutes as comfortable and normal as possible, talking to him, petting him and telling him what a good dog he is, was and had been. But watching tearfully as his heartbeat gradually slowed then stopped, we four all knew that we could never hope to repay what Cu had selflessly offered and delivered over the years.

Cu’s unconditional love, of course, simply mirrors God’s great gift.

There is nothing we can do to earn God’s love. His love will endure but still it is not offered for anything He might gain in return. God does not love our sins but He loves the sinner, no matter how that person is perceived by fellow humans. God does not mete out His love and caring as reward for what we do, have done or have inclination to do in the future. His love is all-encompassing, despite how we conduct ourselves.

God’s unconditional love points us in the direction of salvation. Although He does not dictate what we do and He does not demand certain behaviour in exchange for His creation, caring and love, He does extend an invitation or an opportunity to heal our souls, to make us complete so that we can be part of His unconditional love for eternity.

St. Augustine left a template of how we might love each other, defining love as the hands to help others and the feet to hasten to the needy.

“(Love) has eyes to see misery and want,” Augustine said. “It has the ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men. That is what love looks like.”

The Augustine definition goes further than the golden rule that counsels treating others as you would have them treat you.

The golden rule is also surpassed by Cu’s golden retriever rule, which promotes doing good onto others no matter how they might treat you in return.
St. Teresa of Calcutta says we should share until it hurts.

“Give! Give the love we have all received to those around you,” Teresa wrote. “Give until it hurts, because real love hurts. … You must love with your time, your hands and your hearts. You need to share all that you have.”

Cu’s unconditional love may have lacked the fullness of God’s love and the depth and breadth of Augustine and Teresa’s great insight. Still, as we start a new year, we could do much worse than vowing to follow Cu’s golden standard.

Give the best you have and seek nothing in return.

(Campbell is a reporter at the Halifax Chronicle Herald.)