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What a Dog Can Teach Us About Forgiveness

Nursing a grudge is not good for friendship, much less a strong faith.

Gracie teaches Edward about forgiveness
Credit: Katye Martens Brier

If looks could kill, I’d have been dead twice over. 

I’d taken Gracie to one of her favorite places—Tractor Supply Company (no, don’t own a tractor, though Julee wants me to get a small one to cut the lawn instead of paying a couple of kids to do it. I insist I’m only trying to stimulate the local economy). Gracie has trained the cashiers to give her treats, putting her big paws up on the counter. Smart girl. But I had a secret agenda and when Gracie perceived my nefarious plan, I got the look. 

A bath. 

Gracie in the bathAt the rear of the store is a little doggie spa with tubs, shampoo, towels, blow dryers, combs, everything you need to bathe your dog. Preferable to using your own tub and towels. As soon as she understood her fate and was resigned to it, Gracie’s tail drooped. She went full hangdog (now I know how that expression originated).

I’ve never understood how a dog who loves to flop in the muck and splash though a muddy stream finds a simple bath so objectionable. Maybe it’s a control issue. At the time, I always talk softly to her and ply her with treats, and she still acts as if she’s being led to the gallows. When it’s all over she jumps back in the jeep and collapses with a dramatic sigh. 

But it’s at home where she exacts the greater price. She retires to one of her several beds and shows me her back. Turning their backs on you is a way dogs sometimes demonstrate that they are mad or upset. (When Gracie sees my suitcase come out for a trip into the city, for instance, she does the same thing. She is extraordinarily observant—you can’t get away with anything.) 

Today she was particularly adamant in her affect. Even when I brought her a peace offering—a bit of string cheese, her favorite (I’ve never met a dog who wouldn’t sell its soul for a piece of cheese)—she snatched it from me without making eye contact. 

So, I settled in to watch the Yankees drop another game to the Rays. I was nodding off when I felt a cold nudge on my hand. Gracie. She looked up at me as if to say, “All is forgiven. Let’s be friends again.”

Forgiveness is a remarkable thing and difficult, especially for humans. I’m not always as magnanimous as my dog, who often strives to make me a better person. I can turn my back and hang on to a grudge longer than strictly necessary, if required at all. Maybe I derive satisfaction in nursing a sense of injustice. Yet I know that forgiveness is a necessary ingredient in a strong faith. Jesus came to earth to forgive our sins. We are expected to forgive. 

I scratched behind Gracie’s ears, and she laid her head on my thigh. It was nice to be friends again.

Does your dog hold a grudge? Do you? Let me know.

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