Sammy and the Blur of Fur


As many of you know, Sophie and Annie are not our only children;  we have two additional kids at home.    The first is a west highland terrier named Sammy, and they second is a little Shih-Tzu – Pomeranian Mix named Maggie.   They are child number three and four, and sadly, they are treated as such.    In our home they are not puppies but our babies.  

Clearly lining out our family’s warped relationship with Maggie and Sammy, I must admit it is not always heavenly bliss.  Although I agree with the scientists and the psychologists, that there is a certain level of stress and anxiety that having a pet removes, there is also a great deal that comes with them too.   The dogs bring their own issues to the table.

Maggie is my princess, and all who know me, know that.   There are countless posts to be had on the dog, but today I write about my son, Sammy.   Sammy, our westie, is perhaps one of the smartest and friendliest dogs you will ever met.   I literally mean he is “Timmy fell down the well”, Lassie smart.

He is smart in that he understands the tensions of the house and acts accordingly.   When someone is sick or sad, Sammy seeks them out and cuddles with them.   When we have small children in the house who are anxious around dogs, Sammy realizes this and acts accordingly.    He knows exactly what goes on in the house, and where, at any one given time he needs to be. We believe that in his own sets of moans and groans, Sammy has been trying to communicate to the family for years.   

All this aside, there are things that Sammy, like every other member of the house, brings to the general anxiety levels in our day to day.   No one is perfect.  For Sammy, a great deal of the stresses he brings is directly related to his breeding.

In the way of some background:

The Westie is a relatively new breed having been developed in the late 1800’s and introduced in the US in the early 1900’s.    It was originally called the Poltaloch Terrier, after the estate on which the dog was bred in Argyll region of Western Scotland.   The story goes that Colonel Edward Malcolm, owner of the estate, went on one of those very regal duck hunts with a large party taking his dogs with him.  

The Colonel sends out his red terrier out into the woods, to burrow for foxes in the holes.   After several minutes, one of the hunters in the party sees a flash of red fur, and believing it to be the now escaping fox, turns and shoots.   In a Dick Cheney like move the hunter makes a horrific mistake.   The target is actually the innocent dog, who later dies from the wounds.  The Colonel is devastated and in his grief begins designing a more perfect burrowing dog.    His aim is white fur, because it sticks out so greatly in the forest.

In the end, the Colonel succeeds and breeds the perfect burrowing dog.   The result is the near perfect West Highland Terrier, or Westie.

The Westie has two coats, a soft lower coat, and a straw like rough outer coat.   This was intended to not only keep the white dog clean while digging, but the straw coat is easily pulled out (if they let you).   This was a trait that kept them from getting their fur stuck in ramble or thorns as they drove out foxes from their hiding spots.

Westies were designed with a unique tail.   It is said to be super tail.   It was discovered that sometimes when a dog burrowed that they would often times get stuck and be unable to turn around.    The westie’s tail is so strong that the owner can reach down into the tunnel, grab the tail, and can hold him upside down without hurting the dog.  All the better to yank them out of the hole with.

No matter how nice I have just described Sammy as being, I do not advise doing this.

The last trait, is the one trait that brings the aforementioned stress to the Masters family.   The westie was also bred with what is considered by many to be the highest pitched bark of any commonly bred dog.   The Colonel wanted to be able to hear his dogs through six feet of dirt, and as such Sammy has a bark, if it is done right, can make your ears bleed, and the Masters’ clan is oh-so-grateful to the Colonel for this decision.

Instinctively, when ever Sammy sees any blur of fur out of the corner of his eye, the bred’s instincts kick in, and he goes primal.   You can yell, scream, beg, plead, cry, or pray, but there is little that will have him snap out of his primal rage.    The only thing that truly works is when he is going through this spin-cycle activity, you block his path and simply hold him still.   After a few seconds of shaking and laborious breathing he stops and relaxes.    That is after filling the neighborhood with that uniquely decibel-ed dog bark.

For Sammy, that drive is not only for the furry things but also for the passing Harley Davidson motor, the dog passing the house, the next door neighbors cat, fireworks and thunderstorms among others.    These moments are stressful in the Masters’ house for sure.  Yet in the end, our home isn’t quite as complete without Sammy ruling his roost.

After this rather dissertation on my dog, you may be asking what does that have to do with the price of beans.   I assure you, despite what the seems like pointless chatter from the surface, there is a message.

We are called to embrace our inner Sammy.      We are called to become Sammy-Like in our faith journeys.      We are called to be Sammy like and take stock of our faith journeys in light of the lessons that a dog like Sammy can teach.    

We all have, at the center of our being, and instinctual character.   

It is said, that the sum total of all of our instincts, large and small, makes us who we are.    We have a wide range of instincts that drive our every action and each of our steps.   We have instincts that drive us to search out food, or to search out one another.   We have instincts that tell us when to scream, or when to remain silent.   They tell us to run like heck, or stay and fight.    In the end, we are who we are because of the collection of these competing instincts and our response to them.

At our core there is an instinct that doesn’t often get its due or its acknowledgment.   We have been taught in our faith that God eternally chases after each of us.   It is part of God’s character.  We also need to realize that at the same time God chases us, we chase after him.   There is an instinct at our core that keeps us chasing him.   That instinct is often called the God instinct.  We might chase after warped Gods or Gods of our own making, but we still chase.

I believe Ephesians 2 :4-5, hints at it.   The passage says;  “…Because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.”   There is a piece at our core, out of our control, and sometimes out of our realization that pushes us towards Him.

I don’t care how cold, or how unemotional you may be, one cannot honestly look at all the wonder, beauty, and miracle of this world and not catch a moment of the divine.    You feel it the first time you hold your child or grandchild.    You sense it when someone you love creates something pure or beautiful.   You can sense it on a fall day, when the incredible colors of the leaves, leave you speechless, or on a spring day when pastels take your breath away.     For many of us, an absence of a God amidst all this beauty is sheer and utter nonsense. 

There is an argument to be had that all of this is driven by that instinctual response to our heavenly father….that exists deep at our core.

We were built to chase after God with the same, no stopping him type of intensity Sammy has.    Sadly, to often we do everything and anything but.

I believe we have too easily let the instinct fade.    We buried it away.    Maybe along the way, someone stepped in our way as we were chasing, and held us down long enough that that passion, that drive, and that excitement faded away.    For some unknown reason to me, we grow up and too often our passion and our excitement is replaced with the everyday and mundane, and soon the instincts that defined us, no longer matter.

The world turns us from adventure to predictability.   It changes us from chasing after spontaneity, towards embracing the mundane.   It leads us to exchange uncertainty with the expected.    We grow old, and responsibility becomes our priority and our catch phrase.   The fun, excitement, and the adrenaline of the chase is replaced with the joy of knowing you can pay your mortgage, college funds are in okay shape, and you wont go broke if you occasionally, klutzy daughter breaks and arm in French Class.  There is adrenaline to be found in knowing you will be okay.

But we do change.   Sometimes we give up too much.    Along the way, we become different people:

  • One day you are fired up, ready to grab the world by its ear, and the next you are an old man, driving home from work, oh so looking forward to the recliner and the air conditioner.
  • One day you are fresh, and ready to climb the ladder, and the next you are more than willing to keep to the side in hopes that you don’t get pushed off or stepped on.
  • One day the world becomes less of a challenge and more of a race.   Then the race becomes a “rat” race.    Eventually, you come to the conclusion that you can win the race, but in the end, you’re still a rat.
  • One day your willing to take a shot of tequila and repel down a mountain blindfolded, and the next you find yourself making a pro and con list about switching to soy milk to keep your cholesterol down.

Somehow we have to start to realize that at our core is a spark, its an instinct at our foundation, which tells us to keep moving and to keep running.   We are called to be like Sammy who catches the blur of fur out of the corner of his eye, and put everything to reaching our target.  As I write this, I cant help but think about those around me, and wonder if they answer that instinctual call?    What or who made their instinct fade? What have they given up along the way.    I can’t help but look at each of you, and wonder about what is left?

Our dreams or our callings may have changed.   I’m not going to be an international spy, or a classic rock guitarist for the Rolling Stones.  You might have to give up your dream of being a prima ballerina in the Martha Graham Dance Company.   I will never be the next Frank Sinatra (and you can all add your blessings to the mix on that).   But I know each of us has that spark burning.  It may have gotten faint, but it’s still burning.   It’s that spark that is driving us to chase after something, and it’s driving us to chase after God.   

I would like to close with a story.   A old man, struggling with his own journey of faith and the inherent uncertainty it contained, went to see his Rabbi.    When you told the rabbi his problems, the rabbi paused a moment, and told him a story.

“There is an ancient legend about some men who were on a long journey. They came across a great desert, and rode into a wilderness area. At sundown they came to a river. They got off their horses and knelt down by the river to drink water. Suddenly a voice spoke to them. The voice said, “Fill your pockets up with pebbles from along the river. And tomorrow you will be both glad and sorry.”

So they did what the voice commanded. They got on their horses and rode away.

On through the night they rode. Finally the sun began to peek over the horizon. They stopped and reached into their pockets and there they found diamonds and rubies. They held a treasure in their hands, and they were both glad and sorry. They were glad they had it, but they were sorry because they had not taken more.

Whatever our Journey’s are, or wherever they lead us;  whether that’s ten thousand miles away or right down the road,  there is treasure to take, to chase after, and to drive us along each and every step.    We need to embrace it and encourage it in one another.     This is our calling.

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