|I am owned by an Australian Cattle Dog named Sheila. Great dog. Probably the smartest dog in the world. Like yours, she counts (one for you, one for me), tells time (hey, Bozo, it’s feeding time already), and easily recognizes symbols (car keys plus a to-go cup equals a joyful ride), and so on. All but the very dense dog does most of these things.
Sheila, however, ranks as one of the world’s foremost theologians. Seriously. Some of her teachings, however, might be classified as ordinary. For instance, I am the center of her universe. Others, like my wife, are acknowledged and tolerated but even a very quiet “ahem” from me gets her full attention. Her loyalty is without question. Her obedience, absolute. Her constant study of my revelations, either word or behavior, waivers not a smidgeon. I command, she obeys with a glad heart and with gratitude that I gave her a task. But most Christians have learned these lessons.
What I did not expect were the lessons she taught me about searching for the will of God and striving to fulfill his purposes. Her first lesson in that regard went something like this. She was an abandoned puppy not even one year old. One morning I found her in extreme distress walking up our driveway. She could barely stand. Her belly, it turned out, was full of dead babies resulting from a first pregnancy gone wrong. A quick operation saved her life but even then her recovery was touch and go. She had lost so much weight. She had no reserves.
She survived and grew into a happy, social, and loving animal. A joy to have around. After her recovery, I took her with me one day to work some cows. I did not expect much. She had no training. She had not observed other herding dogs. She did not know the proper commands (she still doesn’t). But in an instant she understood what we were trying to do and how she could help. Not once did she get in the way. Not once did she drive the cows in the wrong direction. Not once did anyone call her “that stupid bitch”. She had discovered God’s purpose for her and it fit like a well worn boot. She was in heaven on earth.
Now here comes the advanced theology. After that first time, she learned a few simple commands (go, stop, right, and left). She learned how not to get kicked, when to bark and when to be quiet. She learned how to pace herself so she did not get worn out before the end of the day. She got some wisdom to go along with her instincts. All that could be considered natural. But this part is unnatural. During sorting time, when I sat on my horse and told her that I wanted the bald faced Angus to go into the pen on the left and the Hereford steer into the pen on my right, she did it. By herself. The most I did was point. My horse loved it, my riding partners loved it, I loved it, and she loved it. The world was set right just as it was met to be.
Her fame quickly spread. Many times I was offered good cash money for her. She was created to work cattle at a level that other dogs can only dream of. Her joy, her unbounded joy, came from using the amazing gifts God gave her to fulfill that purpose. She taught me once again that this is true happiness.
She and I are now too old to work cows. One day recently my wife and I took a spring time drive in the mountains. We turned a corner and there stood a herd of cattle on the road. Sheila did her little whining act so we let her out of the car. After she escorted all of the cows back into the field, I swear that she returned to the car with a huge grin on her face. Even old dogs can occasionally perform like all-stars, she said. Yet another lesson.