Theological reflections on a bulldog

Sleep soft, old friend. You gave us joy.

By Julie Pennington-Russell

Our dear English Bulldog, Willie Boy, died last week. Hearts are still at half-mast around here.

Back in December of 2005, in a moment of temporary insanity, Tim and I decided to grant our daughter Lucy’s persistent and increasingly creative requests for a puppy. We approached the task of choosing a breed with painstaking precision.

OK, in truth we Googled this dog. Plugged in the two most essential characteristics — “requires minimal exercise” and “excessively affectionate” — and voila (or as we say in the South: wah LA), all fingers pointed to the English Bulldog. (Our Google search for dogs born potty-trained came up empty.)

Willie lived up to his breed’s reputation. He was a furry love sponge whose idea of rigorous exercise was a trip to the mailbox. He fit in from the get-go.

willie-on-floorAnd he taught me some things about God. For one thing, God appreciates a good joke. Anyone who doubts God’s sense of humor has never met canis lupus bulldawgus. It’s my fixed belief that bulldogs got thought up at around 4:45 on Friday afternoon, when God was feeling a wee bit prankish.

And Willie was evidence that God uses all the crayons in the big box. In 1848 Cecil Frances Alexander of Dublin, Ireland, wrote some words that would become a best-loved children’s hymn: “All things bright and beautiful, All creatures great and small, All things wise and wonderful: The Lord God made them all.”

Mrs. Alexander wrote the hymn to help children better understand the opening words of the Apostles’ Creed: “I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.”

I can report that Willie Boy didn’t know the Apostles’ Creed from applesauce. He never once weighed in on the predestination debate, or invited anyone to consider the gospel, or lifted a paw to help address the problem of evil in the world.

And yet, as my heart lurches now for our jowly, gassy, ornery little guy with the undulant waddle and goofy underbite, I can’t help but marvel at our colorful Creator — who jolly well could have made all animals boringly alike, but who, for the sheer pleasure of it, gave us bulldogs and baboons, wart hogs and wallabies, poodles and panda bears. Yippee!

So here’s to you, Willie Boy — you hilarious reminder of God’s creative goodness. Sleep soft, old friend. You gave us joy.

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