In the past I’ve tended to think there are two kinds of people: those who love animals, and those who don’t.
What’s more, the two kinds of people have difficulty understanding each other. Each tends to say: “What’s wrong with them? I don’t get it!”
Recently, though, I had a revelation. Loving animals may be more circumstantial than my segregation allows. For some of the ‘non-animal’ group, at least, they’re just not around animals enough to know how they feel about them.
A recent event made me reconsider my two-group logic. I got bids on a landscaping job at my country home the other day. One of the workers I interviewed came down from Albuquerque on a Sunday and brought with him his wife and sister-in-law. It was a sunny day and the women wanted to go for a drive “in the country.” While the landscaper and I walked around talking about plans and possibilities, the two women wandered off on their own, introduced themselves to my seven mini-donkeys, four pygmy goats, and two Scotties . . . and giggled and laughed and discovered a joy in animals that surprised them. As the group got into their car to drive home, I heard one of the women say, “Well, I never thought I’d be seeing farm animals up close and personal!”
My conclusion from this? I’m not superior for loving animals. I’m luckier than most to get to live where I share my life and my world with them every day.
This revelation draws me back to a story that has made the rounds in different forms. Readers have likely seen it. But it’s worth circulating again, because it reminds us that heaven, like life, is NOT all about humans. Heaven is where animals count, too.
An old cowboy was riding his trusty horse followed by his faithful dog along an unfamiliar road. The man was enjoying the new scenery, when he suddenly remembered dying, and realized that the dog beside him had been dead for years, as had his horse. Confused, he wondered what was happening, and where the trail was leading them.
After a while, they came to a high, white stone wall that looked like fine marble. At the top of a long hill, it was broken by a tall arch topped by a golden letter “H” that glowed in the sunlight.
Standing before it, he saw a magnificent gate in the arch that looked like mother-of-pearl, and the street that led to the gate looked like gold.
He rode toward the gate, and as he got closer, he saw a man at a desk to one side. Parched and tired out by his journey, he called out, ‘Excuse me, where are we?’
‘This is Heaven, Sir,’ the man answered.
‘Wow! Would you happen to have some water?’ the man asked.
‘Of course, sir. Come right in, and I’ll have some ice water brought right up.’
As the gate began to open, the cowboy asked, ‘Can I bring my partners in, too?’
‘I’m sorry, sir, but we don’t accept pets.’
The cowboy thought for a moment, then turned back to the road and continued riding, his dog trotting by his side.
After another long ride, at the top of another hill, he came to a dirt road leading through a ranch gate that looked as if it had never been closed. As he approached the gate, he saw a man inside, leaning against a tree and reading a book.
‘Excuse me,’ he called to the man. ‘Do you have any water?’
‘Sure, there’s a pump right over there. Hep’ yourself.’
‘How about my friends here?’ the traveler gestured to the dog and his horse.
‘Of course!! They look thirsty, too,’ said the man.
The trio went through the gate, and sure enough, there was an old-fashioned hand pump with buckets beside it. The traveler filled a cup and the buckets with wonderfully cool water and took a long drink, as did his horse and dog.
When they were full, he walked back to the man who was still standing by the tree. ‘What do you call this place?’ the traveler asked.
‘This is Heaven,’ he answered.
‘That’s confusing,’ the traveler said. ‘The man down the road said that was Heaven, too.’
‘Oh, you mean the place with the glitzy, gold streets and fake pearly gates? That’s Hell!!’
‘Doesn’t it make you angry that they use your name in vain?’
‘Not at all. Actually, we’re happy they screen out the folks who would leave their best friends behind!!’