What Sign is at Your Gate?

Two dogs rambled with me on my morning walk today. Happy to be free, they romped alongside, sniffing every blessed thing—including large cats and small poles.

The biggest, a young black lab, took one step for every four springy ones of his smaller companion—a curly-haired, oatmeal-colored reincarnated rubber ball, I think. The pair explored a wide perimeter around me, but kept dashing back, heads up, eyes bright.

Here’s the thing: the Preacher and I have no dogs. I had no idea who owned those two wanderers.

During the Depression years, tramps wandering the countryside left subtle indicators at farm gates to let the next bloke know whether they could expect kind treatment there. If the signs indicated otherwise, the men moved on without stopping.

 Dogs and cats do the same thing, I swear. Strange ones keep finding us.

 One miserable wet evening, I noticed a pug zig-zagging down our street, sides heaving.  Its darling pushed-in face had a woeful “please help me, I’m lost” look.

 I opened the door and whistled. To my surprise, the dog rushed into the house, wheezing badly. After a drink and a cuddle, she calmed down, and made it clear: “I’m staying, people.” Curling up on the floor beside the Preacher’s chair, she fell soundly asleep.

 One strategic phone call gave us both name and number of the dog’s owners. No one answered. “They’ll be out looking for her,” said the Preacher, in his wisest “been there, done that” voice. (He has too. Our late pup, Mindy, took regular constitutionals. Every old girl’s privilege, I say.)

 We left a message. The owners picked her up about six hours later, explaining that they’d been out of town for the day. The dog had escaped her dog-sitters and found our invisible sign: Suckers for dogs live here.

 I didn’t let my two bedraggled companions in the house this morning. Nevertheless, after our walk, they curled up on the front porch, as if glad to have found a spot to rest where they knew they were welcome. After a nap, they dashed down the stairs and off again. I hope they found their way home.

 We enjoy our canine visitors so much that we’ve even volunteered to keep a few while their owners take vacation. One barrel-chested, camel-haired pup with a pushed-in chocolate nose (and a bad case of asthma) stayed with us for four days not long ago. Yes, the same wee wanderer—visiting with her owners’ blessing this time.

 Among all the big opportunities God gives his kids, the things we think really make a difference in the world, he places odd smaller missions—welcoming strangers with or without fur, is one.

 What sign is at your gate?


Some animals walk with us, but some run. Click here to see what happened when one man allowed the welcome sign to stay up for one small black kitten: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=zz8hlLcjIbQ