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How God Gave Me a Grateful Dog

For naysayers who say canines can’t make the emotional leap to gratitude, meet Gracie.

A grateful dog, Gracie
Credit: Katye Martens Brier

This being Thanksgiving week, I’ve been wondering if dogs possess the capacity for gratitude. When your dog snatches a treat from your outstretched fingers, is she thankful or does she simply think she is getting her due? One expert I consulted was skeptical. Most canine emotions, he maintains, are connected to their primal drives, like fear, contentment, anger, jealousy and happiness. Being grateful is an abstract leap dogs can’t quite manage.

Well, I beg to differ. God gave me a grateful dog. Gracie may live in the moment but that doesn’t mean she isn’t grateful for the moment, that her awareness lacks that astuteness. Today, for instance, we were on a trail when we reached a section where I liberated her from her leash. Before rocketing up ahead, she paused and looked back. That look said only one thing: Thank you for the freedom. Then she was off, kicking up her hind legs like a colt and disappearing into the trees.

I have one more example for those naysayers who claim a dog can’t be thankful. At mealtimes, my wife Julee sets a place for Gracie on the floor next to her chair—a bowl waiting to be filled with bits of lean protein Julee dispenses from her plate. I do not share with our dog from the table but that’s another story.

At the end of every meal before I get up from my chair, Gracie lays her head on my thigh. This is not begging since she knows it would be to no avail. No, this is what Julee calls a hug. You see, I do most of the shopping and cooking. Gracie is well aware of this. She watches me intently, carrying in the groceries, grilling the meat, tossing the salad and serving the meal. She understands my role. After the meal is concluded, she lays her head gently on my thigh and looks up at me. More often than not she erupts with a guileless little burp. I know she is saying thank you.

This week I am grateful to Gracie—and to God for giving me such a demonstrably grateful golden retriever—for being a reminder to focus on my blessings in the wake of this heartless year when it would be too easy to surrender to pessimism and even despair. Gratitude is an experience of the moment, an instant when God’s grace becomes visible in your life. May you all, my friends, find much to be grateful for this Thanksgiving.

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