All creatures great and small
By Charles A. Collins, Jr.
The prodigal doggie. Image provided.
Several years ago I wrote a couple of columns about my dog Bee, a rescue that I adopted in 2016 after my previous and very beloved dog Sabrina died at the age of roughly 14 after being my faithful companion for more than 12 years. Bee suffered abuse early in her life and she still bears the scar from a chemical burn on her back. She’s also very skittish — it took me several months as her new owner to gain her trust, but gain it I did. Because of her rough beginning, I didn’t board her when traveling, arranging instead to stay in pet-friendly hotels or making other arrangements so that she could go with me. Until, that is, May of this year.
In late 2020 I put my name in for consideration to become the next Rector of St. Andrew’s Anglican Church in Savannah, Georgia. Earlier this year representatives of the parish and I got to know each other and they had me down to meet with them, preach and celebrate on the first Sunday in March. Bee and I stayed in a nearby hotel and had a nice weekend in Savannah. The parish also invited me back to preach and celebrate on Easter Sunday, the first Sunday in April (I took that as a good sign), and later that month a call was issued and I accepted with joy. My first official Sunday as rector was May 2, a happy day.
During the services on my previous two visits I left Bee in my car with the windows cracked — the weather was cool enough to do that without a problem — but Savannah in early May is too hot and humid to do that. St. Andrew’s has a rectory with a fenced-in backyard and so on my first Sunday I placed Bee in the yard, left some water out for her and (I thought) secured all the gates before the service, which was followed by a reception welcoming me. Following the service I had emotions of joy and expectation about what God will do during my time serving in this place — and it will utterly be he who does it.
When I returned to the rectory my joy quickly turned to horror. Bee was not in the backyard and a gate that I’d not seen was open into a wooded area. I quickly changed clothes, placing the T-shirt that I was wearing on the back porch, as I’d heard that dogs will sometimes return to clothes that have their masters’ scent on them, and drove all over the neighborhood looking for her. I reported her to animal control and was advised to post on a local Facebook page for lots pets, which I did. I also printed flyers.
I had to be back in the Charleston area for my last week at the hospice that I served (and still serve on a part-time basis) as a chaplain since 2015, and after nightfall I returned home with a heavy heart, feeling like I’d left my best friend helpless. As I crossed the Savannah River back into South Carolina I felt very, very low.
May crept by with some leads, a report of a dead dog that might have been Bee but wasn’t there when one of my parishioners went to check (I was out of town). There was also a black dog seen on Tybee Island that had left the area by the time I got there. A veterinarian who is a parishioner said that she might be headed back to the Charleston area — a prospect that frightened me given the traffic, alligators and other threats along the way.
June passed, as did July and August. Another report of the black dog on Tybee — I spent several evenings looking for her before learning that the dog was caught and wasn’t Bee. I tried never to lose hope, but I was getting worried.
On the evening of Friday, September 10, I was working out at the gym when my telephone rang; even though calls aren’t supposed to be taken on the floor I answered. It was a lady I’ve gotten to know who is very active in animal rescue, and she told me that she thought Bee had been found. She had the officer who’d posted pictures on the other line. I was less than a tenth of a mile from animal control, where he was taking her, and it probably took me longer to walk out of the gym than it did to drive there.
There, in the back of his car, was a very scared, very skinny dog that looked an awful lot like Bee with some cuts on her face from tangling with another animal. The scanning of the microchip removed all doubt. She’d been found behind the Jewish Educational Alliance, about a mile and a half from the church and rectory, where they thought she was a wild dog. She’s adjusted to being back home and has put on weight, and the cut is healing. She recently tested negative for heartworms — no small thing for a dog that was outside for three months in the hot Savannah summer.
Jesus said, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father” (St. Matthew 12:29 ESV). God is sovereign over all, over sparrows and even over a missing mutt. The things some may think are trifling in our lives matter to him because he loves us. Although I cannot guarantee an outcome as happy as the one that occurred with Bee — sometimes the dog doesn’t return, the disease isn’t cured and deliverance doesn’t happen — I can assure all reading this that God cares and that ultimately even our worst experiences will be used for his glory and for the good of those who trust in him.
The Reverend Charles A. Collins, Jr., is the rector of St. Andrew’s Anglican Church in Savannah (https://www.saintandrewsanglican.net) and a graduate of Erskine Theological Seminary, where he is currently a doctoral student. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.