“ball…ball……ball, ball, ball, ballballballballball………ball”
As I watched my friend’s border collie, this is all that could possibly be going through her brain. Her focus was beyond intense. It was singular, concentrated, and unbreakable. Around her at the dog park, other dogs would try to play with her, try to sniff her, try all kinds of wagging, slobbering and pawing, but to no effect. “Ball” and only “ball” was on her mind. Her stare bore a hole into the center of the deflated, slobbered soccer ball like it was the only thing on earth.
Such are the results of careful training. My friend trains dogs to detect important scents like explosives and illicit drugs for law enforcement. His own border collie has been tested on wrangling herd animals and agility to great success. And the singular focus she now possesses is more than just a cute trick. A working dog does not stop working until its companion says to stop. She would keep going and working and going and working into exhaustion and beyond. As a matter of fact, border collies are one of the only breeds who will physically work themselves to death if they are not cared for properly.
This reminds me of the sign at the entrance of our sanctuary I think about a lot. It says something like “ONLY SERVICE ANIMALS ARE PERMITTED.” My first chuckle at this has to do with the common differentiation humans like to make between humans and the beings humans refer to as animals. One implication to draw from this sign is that humans do not think of themselves as animals. The other chuckle I get is about the dedication many of the human animals in our congregation have to service, to working for a change in this world that hurts too many too often.
Personally, I think there is a great deal to learn and let go of by remembering that I am an animal with relatives all along the tree of life. I see (vegan) dessert, and a hungry ancestor knows that quick calories might make the difference between life and death that day. And that ancestor would not even comprehend the shame reflex that exists around sweets for so many. Sometimes letting go of being human as some kind of accomplishment or a source of pride helps. After all, many define pride as taking credit for something the Universe did.
It’s hard not to laugh at the show of the other dogs. Some of the younger dogs have no sense of their bodies yet. At only a few months old, they bang into one another, human knees, and the ground. The tongues lolling out of smiling canine mouths just soaking in the dog-ness of it all is pure joy, but “ball…ball…ball…” is all that my friend’s dog can see. The scene is a harmony of unbridled instincts and instincts finely honed to help—animals in service they would render until death. And all of them, every last one, having a ball.
And may it ever be so.
Rev. T. J.