Sam had just been rediagnosed with the leukaemia that would take his life six years later, and was feeling vile from his chemotherapy cocktail. He quickly fell in love with the little border collie-whippet (we think!) cross and they became inseparable.
I called him Lennie for composer/conductor/pianist Lennie Bernstein because he was black and white like piano keys – a fellow dog-walker used to call him “the little dog in a tuxedo” – while for my children the name resonated because Lenny is a character in The Simpsons.
Lennie slept on Sam’s bed, which is where he was when Sam died, surrounded by his family at home, and was the only one with whom Sam would share hot chips – the rest of us had to wait until they grew cold and unappetising. Lennie was a gentle soul, who didn’t seem to mind being picked up and stuffed head-first into a basket.
He was such an intelligent dog that the trainers who gave him his advanced obedience certificate wanted him to learn circus tricks, such as riding on the back of a bigger dog. I declined.
Lennie died a couple of weeks ago, aged 16 years and 10 months. He was so special to our family not only because he was a beautiful dog but because he provided an important link with Sam. But his time had clearly come: he couldn’t find his water bowl right next to his kennel, he was suffering in the January heat, tottered rather than walked, and was entirely disoriented. He was also developing a growth on his jaw. Only two of us were allowed at the vet’s, so my youngest son and I held him as the light went out.
I write about Lennie today not just to honour him, but because he was a daily reason for gratitude to God. Most believers who love their pets see them as a gift from God (along with every other blessing in their lives). Of course non-believers love their dogs just as much but any gratitude is, by definition, not to God.
For me, gratitude is at the absolute centre of faith; it is the natural and proper response to life, and is one of the reasons I became a believer as an adult. But few of God’s good gifts to us give so much and ask so little.
A dog’s selfless faithfulness is a tiny picture of God’s faithfulness to his promises, a constant theme through the Bible that believers have tested for themselves time and again.
This article first appeared in The Age.