December 16, 2008
The Three-legged Messenger
Has an animal influenced your faith? Contributors to The Francis Files share their stories.
by Mary Mandeville
I grew up in a devout Roman Catholic home. While attending Catholic school I learned a troubling truth: I was stained by original sin, even before birth. I longed for my very own guardian angel, but it seemed that none was forthcoming.
I tried hard to make up for the stain of original sin and to be a true believer. But the first time I heard the parable of "Doubting Thomas," I knew I was just like him.
As a skeptic, he wanted proof that Jesus's resurrection was no hoax. Finally, it took letting Thomas touch his wounds to convince him. "Thomas, you have seen and you believe," Jesus said. "Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet, believe." I wanted to believe, but I was looking for an angel to appear to me, for heavenly messengers from God.
As an adult, I whirled through religions looking for hope and my own special messenger; I marched for peace, became a vegan, and protested nuclear weapons. Still, I was plagued by doubt and, still, no angels.
Giving up on religion as a place to find my answers, I decided to get a dog. Searching for a husky-type dog, I was surprised at the local pound when a small, black Lab-mix caught my eye and insisted that she was the one. I took her home. Within a year, Molly—that wavy-haired black lab mix—lost her right front leg when she was hit by a car. Watching Molly adapt—seamlessly—to three legs without a moment of self-pity, touched a tender spot in me.
Soon after Molly's accident, I was diagnosed with cancer. Questions about life and death, heaven and hell, and the existence of God resurfaced, alongside questions about radiation, chemotherapy, and surgery. One day, I was crying about my abysmal choices when Molly hopped down from her spot on the couch and came across the room to me. She jumped up beside me, plopped her solitary front leg across my lap and stared directly into my eyes. I sucked in my breath in surprise. "Who are you in there?" I gasped. In that moment, I saw the soul of a dog. I understood that my larger frontal cortex, my thumb, and my ability to shape my tongue and lips into words did not necessarily correspond with superiority.
"Are you an angel?" I whispered. Words didn't tumble miraculously out of her mouth, wings didn't sprout from her back, light didn't emanate from her in a halo. Still, her dark eyes bored into mine. She barked a short, sharp bark. She pawed my lap with her lone front paw. "Get on with your life," she said. "I did. It'll be OK." It couldn't have been clearer if she'd written me a letter. Even "Doubting Thomas" would have noticed.
Maybe guardian angels don't always arrive on clouds announced by trumpets. Maybe, just maybe, they can have wavy black fur and three legs. I still tend to be a "Doubting Thomas," struggling with faith in God and faith in humanity every day. Still, Molly gave me faith in the love of a dog. I think it's as good a place as any to start.
Molly passed away 10 days before Christmas 2007, at age 15. "She was a remarkable soul," said Mandeville. Mary Mandeville lives in Portland, Oregon.
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