Four-legged teacher

A spiritual look at issues of interest to young people

This is a story about a boy called Bill and his dog, named Dingaan. Dingaan was a happy mixture. He had short legs but a long body. His hair was long in places, short in others, but always soft. He was white and black and brown and splotchy.

When Bill named his dog, he didn't know that the original Dingaan had been a fierce Zulu warrior and chief who scared not only his enemies but even his own people in Africa. But Bill liked the name, and he stuck to it.

"Dingaan's my best friend," he explained. "He never leaves my side. He's protected me from fierce dogs, rats, snakes, and unfriendly strangers. We just love each other."

You can imagine how Bill felt when he got home from school one day and Dingaan wasn't at the front gate to greet him. As Bill ran off to look for Dingaan, he did something his mother had encouraged him to do every time he felt anxious or troubled about anything - he prayed.

This time he reached out to God by praying, "Strongest Father-Mother, I love You, and I know that You love me - and Dingaan, and all of my friends - because we are part of Your family. Nothing can hurt us, because Your arms are always tightly wrapped around us. We can't stray from you. We can't be lost. Thank You for being with me and Dingaan all the time."

Bill at once felt more peaceful and less anxious. He stood still, and over the sound of the traffic, he could hear loud, deep barking coming from a clump of trees nearby. Then he heard a lighter bark. It was Dingaan's! Bill plunged through the bushes and came across an amazing scene.

In the branches of a tall syringa tree was a small boy who was Bill's neighbor. At the foot of the tree was a huge, snarling dog that the boy was obviously trying to escape. And beside the big dog was Dingaan, making almost as much noise with his tiny little voice. He was snapping at the bigger dog and trying desperately to draw him away from the tree.

Bill looked up at the boy in the tree and told him that God was with him. He was safe, and didn't need to be afraid. Then Bill reached into his pockets for some dog biscuits, which he always carried for Dingaan.

He stepped up to the big dog - not too close - and told him to calm down and have something to eat. He tossed half a biscuit a little away from the tree, and motioned to the boy to come down and stand with him.

The big dog quieted a little, and moved toward the biscuit. He gobbled it up and looked up for more. Bill looked him in the eyes without fear and thought how beautiful he was. Then he felt Dingaan rubbing against his leg, and words to say to the big dog just came into Bill's head: "Come on, now. You don't have to be angry. You're a good dog. God loves you, too. We love you."

And you know what happened next? Just as though he'd heard and understood Bill, Dingaan went up to the other dog and licked his face. And the dog licked him back!

Soon, both boys and both dogs were able to walk back home, good friends, with all fear gone, whoosh ... just like that!

They were welcomed at the gate by Bill's mother and by their neighbors, who were relieved to see their son safely home. They thanked Bill, and said Dingaan was a hero for helping to care for their son and for sending out the distress signal that called for rescue.

And how do I know this story is true? Because I am Bill!

I will always think of Dingaan as one of my best teachers. I called him my four-legged teacher. He taught me how to run like the wind, how to leap, how to catch a ball, how to eat fast, and how to stand guard.

Even more important, I now realize, Dingaan taught me how to love without expecting anything in return. How to be patient. How to be loyal. How to be brave.

He even taught me to bark ... just kidding!

... Love is reflected in love ....

Mary Baker Eddy

(founder of the Monitor)

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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