My Dog Bit Me

...on Christmas Eve in 2021 we added our little dog, Potato, to our family.

        Most of you know that on Christmas Eve in 2021 we added our little dog, Potato, to our family. As a Pug, she makes plenty of cute noises, and as a puppy, she has the same problems many puppies have. She is a noisy, gassy, nibbling, cute little ball of energy. Although she was purchased as a gift for my children, she is very attached to me. This past Saturday, I had been away from her for a bit and was about to leave to come to the church office. I knew I had to say goodbye, and as she spotted me in the kitchen, she ran to me with excitement, wanting to be in my arms.

               I’ve never appreciated dog “kisses” the way some do, but to borrow a phrase from Gary Chapman, that is clearly one of Potato’s “love languages.” She Is the only puppy I have ever had who wants to give you a lick on the face and then also each ear, occasionally with little nibbles. I’ve attempted to explain to Potato that I don’t want my ears nibbled on, even if the nibbles were intended to communicate love and they were light. This time, I had Potato in my arms, and she was loving on me in that same excited, intense manner she always does when she hasn’t seen me in more than five minutes. As I moved her away from my ears, she latched on elsewhere… to my nose.

               I have recently had allergy problems, including nose bleeds that have flared up again. My nose was already sore and raw inside. You can imagine how much pain I experienced when she didn’t just nibble, but gave, in what I’m sure was intended to be playful, a pretty good bite on my nose.

               Having received control tactics training to better defend myself while working in a locked facility, I knew that the best way to deal with a bite, is somewhat counterinitiative. Person, dog, whatever, you should lean into the bite forcefully, which can cause the biter to adjust their jaws or their neck, giving you a chance to escape. Sadly, muscle memory, that is an instinctual reaction, kicked in instead of my training. I jerked back quick and hard trying to escape the pain, which made it much worse. What was likely only painful because I was having some nostril difficulty, became painful because I just raked sharp little puppy teeth on the inside of my nose, all while I was scaring the puppy and causing her to clamp down to stabilize herself.

               I pulled Potato away, gaining enough sense to put my free hand on her jaws to separate them. I turned her around, spanked her bottom, walked to the door and put in her in the backyard forcefully. Heather had not realized what had happened at first, and was concerned that I was abusing our poor puppy, but she realized what had happened when she saw the blood.

               No one said anything Sunday, but I was self conscious about preaching with a visible scratch and scab on my nose. It’s still there at the time of writing this, and still hurts. Despite the pain, I have made up with little Potato. She is a young puppy, and I don’t think there was malicious intent. I continue to train her and am even more stern about nibbling.  But why am I telling you about my dog?

               Those of us with pets know how much effort, time, and sometimes cash we go through taking care of them. When we spend so much effort loving some little critter, spending so much time with them, when they hurt us, the betrayal is made deeper. How could Potato bite me? It would be silly to ask of her, do you know much I paid for you? How many toys I have given you? How often I clean your water? How much I clean up after you? How much I love you? Given all that, how could you do this? I’ll admit to asking my pets questions, but God has graced me with enough sanity not to expect them to answer… at least in English, and certainly not those kinds of questions.  The reality is that loving can open us up to deeper pain, and it’s not just with animals.

               Like us, Peter had no doubt been hurt by others. Matthew 18:21-22 records the following exchange between Peter and Jesus, “Then Peter came and said to Him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” Jesus *said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.” Unfortunately, we can’t take this overly literally and only forgive someone 490 times. Sometimes it may feel tempting to keep track so that we can wash our hands when we hit our limit. Peter’s use of seven was likely already seen as a high number for his day, and it wasn’t enough. Jesus told him that his level of forgiveness needed to increase exponentially.

               This isn’t a call to remain in an abusive or unwise situation. Too often I hear “Forgive and Forget” and while I understand the intent behind the phrase, there are times we need to remember, not for the purpose of anger, but for the purpose of recognizing patterns, protecting ourselves and others, and even, as was addressed earlier in Matthew 18, addressing those who wrong us in an appropriate way, in hopes they can grow past the issue or behavior.

               The other extreme is blaming people for hurt that they really didn’t understand in the first place. It’s been recognized that “Hurt people hurt people.” The truth of that fact plays out in our daily lives often, and in many cases, people are unaware that they are passing their pain onto others.

               Since I began with my dog, let me tell you a little about my cat, or more specifically, her mother. While Maxi is a loving, to me anyways, old house cat, when I first got her mother, she was feral. It took a long time for that feral cat not to hiss and swipe at me out of her own fear. I had to build a relationship with her and slowly teach her she wasn’t a feral stray anymore, and that we lived together and needed to get along, and could trust and even love one another. Unfortunately, I did have to give her to my cousin after a move, but she was rehabilitated at that point, and you would have never known how she started out. When I went back to retrieve her from my cousin, she was such a loving cat, and my cousin had so bonded with her, that I accepted a kitten, instead.

               Many people respond in hurtful ways, because they have been hurt, and because they aren’t fully understanding what is going on. Words are often reactions, not a well thought out script. A dog may snap at a vet because of an instinctual response to pain at a shot or a stitch, but it doesn’t mean the dog is malicious and needs to be put down. Many of the hurt people we encounter need more grace as we are interacting with them. We usually don’t know what’s going on in their life and how that might impact the way they treat us. Keeping that in mind isn’t easy in the moment.

               Loving those who hurt you requires patience, understanding, and forgiveness. It’s always wise to check ourselves and make sure we aren’t continuing to spread the hurt when we receive it. Proverbs 15:1 instructs us that “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” So, if we take a deep breath in the moment, and pause before simply responding, we may be able calm down or change a situation. It’s worth it to try. They were made to bear God’s image. As followers of Christ, we should recognize what God’s grace, in the face of our own imperfections and hurt, means to us, Shouldn’t we naturally want to spread that to others? I’m quite sure the people who have hurt me aren’t in need of as much forgiveness from me, as I am in need of forgiveness from God. That should inspire us to follow Him with depth in love for those around us, even those who are hurting us.