Thursday, February 1, 2018

Forever On His Altars

Landseer Newfoundland

When some proud son of man returns to earth,
Unknown to glory, but upheld by birth,
The sculptor's art exhausts the pomp of woe,
And storied urns record who rests below;
When all is done, upon the tomb is seen,
Not what he was, but what he should have been:

But the poor dog, in life the firmest friend,
The first to welcome, foremost to defend,
Whose honest heart is still his master's own,
Who labours, fights, lives, breathes for him alone,
Unhonour'd falls, unnotic'd all his worth,
Denied in heaven the soul he held on earth:

While man, vain insect! hopes to be forgiven,
And claims himself a sole exclusive heaven.
Oh man! thou feeble tenant of an hour,
Debas'd by slavery, or corrupt by power,
Who knows thee well must quit thee with disgust,
Degraded mass of animated dust!

Thy love is lust, thy friendship all a cheat,
Thy smiles hypocrisy, thy words deceit!
By nature vile, ennobled but by name,
Each kindred brute might but thee blush for shame.
Ye! who perchance behold this simple urn,
Pass on-it honours none you wish to mourn;
To mark a friend's remains these stories arise,
I never knew but one and here he lies.

Boatswain's Monument
Newstead Abbey
Nottinghamshire, England

This poem, inscribed on the monument above,
 was written by the famous English nobleman and poet, Lord Byron,
 in memory of his beloved dog, Boatswain, who died after contracting
rabies.  It is said that Byron himself nursed the dog through
his illness, apparently without concern that he could be
infected by the disease himself.

Like the famous poet, I know how sorrowful it is to
lose a cherished family pet.  Reading this moving tribute,
I had a hard time containing my own emotions, thinking of
my two beloved Labrador Retrievers,  Mariah and Chase,
who have now gone on to their deserved reward.
Both were loving and loyal companions to me and my children.
Both were fearless watchdogs guarding our home, day and night.
I remember never fearing the dark or the
threat of an unwelcome intruder due to the canine security
 guard lying on the floor next to my bed at night.

Like Lord Byron, I lost both of my dogs to unexpected illnesses,
but mercifully, not to rabies.  Furthermore, regarding the lines,

"Unhonour'd falls, unnotic'd all his worth,
Denied in heaven the soul he held on earth.."

 while I believe that animals do not have souls,
as part of God's creation, they embody His spirit within them,
which is so clearly evident in the selfless love our pets have for us, 
 even when we are impatient, or sometimes unkind to them.

I clearly remember the day I had to take Mariah, my Black Lab, to be
put down at the animal hospital.  She was about 16 years old, having lived
four years past her prime, and suffering from large tumors
in her stomach, which preventing her from standing up or
trying to walk.  I remember being in the room with her after she was
given the injection of the drug that would stop her heart forever.
 The one last look as her shiny dark eyes bore into mine
seem to say to me, "It's going to be alright."

Except I did not feel alright.  I felt terrible.  I cried all the way back
to my home, trying to convince myself that my Mariah had been suffering
and was now out of her pain and misery, while remembering too,
 the veterinarian's grim prognosis that morning about a possible
operation to save the dog's life.
"I cannot guarantee that an operation would save her life at this point
in time," she had told me.  It might even prolong her suffering.
You are doing the best thing for her."

Back at home, I opened the front door only to be met by the ring
of silence in my ears.  No excited bark of welcome 
or wagging tail greeted my arrival.  
Later, as I sat down on my living room couch to read, before opening
up the bible sitting on my lap, I closed my eyes and asked the Lord
to please speak to my broken heart through His word.  I needed 
reassurance that my beloved companion, like the sparrow which
falls from the tree, would never be forgotten.
As I opened my bible, the pages fell open to one of my
favorite books, the Psalms, where the words of the 84th psalm
seemed to leap off the page in front of me:

"Yes, the sparrow has found a house, and a swallow a nest
for herself, where she may lay her young-even Your altars,
O Lord of hosts, my King and my God."
Psalm 84:3

As I read those comforting words over again, 
 the reassuring peace of God lifted the feelings of emptiness and 
loss within my heart.  I knew Mariah was fine.  My faithful
companion was not without her own special reward,
 having found shelter forever on His altars.

"The Masters of the Marsh"
In addition to being great family pets, the
loveable and loyal Labrador Retriever is 
an excellent hunting dog for waterfowlers.

"Inscription on the Monument to a Newfoundland Dog"
Written by Lord George Gordon Byron


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