Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Interlude for Cocoa

As a hardcore introvert, I don’t get what people would call “passionate” about a lot of things. I’m more into fact and action than passion. On the passion front, apologetics and my beloved Mrs H are the main focal points

for me… and one other thing.
Today’s a special day, though the one it is special for hardly knows it. He’s here in the house with me quietly napping by the window, enjoying the sunshine from his comfortable bed. It was three years ago today that he came to live with us – I mean, of course, our miniature poodle, Cocoa.

We adopted Cocoa from an organization called Coastal Poodle Rescue (CPR). They’re typical of many such organizations that take in pets that are abandoned, abused, or in some cases, not able to be taken care of any more by owners who become too sick or financially burdened to care for them.

We’re not sure how old Cocoa is. He was found running wild on the streets near a mall not far from here. His age can only be approximated, but by now he’s probably 5. At the time he was found, he was so wild that he would snap at everyone who came close to him. The animal shelter employees referred to him as “Alligator Dog.”

His condition was so serious that the President of CPR was the one who first took him in. Then one of their Vice Presidents took over. It was some months afterwards that I went looking for a poodle to adopt and the timing was just right to select him.

Three years later, you’d almost never know that it was the same dog. To be sure, there are times when Cocoa will bare some teeth, and I think these have connections to what was done to him by his prior owners. For one thing, he will sometimes object when he’s being dried with a towel. I suspect he was teased by being covered with a towel and being poked or prodded at. For other reasons, I suspect he was kept in a cage in a dark garage most of the time, and let out to play only infrequently – probably with a little girl, since he shows a particular fondness for those.

Those flashes of anger are rare, though, and vanish almost at once. Most of the time, Cocoa is the sort of dog who will lick you constantly and won’t stop until you tell him to – at least twice. His affectionate nature leads me to see his abandonment as especially cruel. To this day, when we arrive home in the car with him, he seems tremendously excited (and relieved) that home was his final destination. He’s also a “Velcro” dog – as I go about my daily errands, he’ll always be sure that he’s never more than one room away from me.

You’re certainly wondering why this subject, of all things, gets me going. It has a connection to a Christian worldview, to be sure. Gen. 1:26 makes us stewards of creation. Dogs – especially smaller ones like Cocoa, as it happens – are something we are particularly responsible for, and to which we owe a certain debt of care.

There was a program on one of those nature shows that illustrated the problem. Tests were done comparing the reactions of wolves to the reactions of dogs in a certain experimental situation. Wolves and dogs alike were given a puzzle to figure out which would get them a reward. The wolves were zoo wolves who knew their keepers well and had a good relationship with them. Yet when they were unable to solve the puzzle, the wolves kept trying on their own to resolve it.
In contrast, the dogs took a little while to look for a resolution to the puzzle, and then – this is the part that moves me – when they realized it was beyond them, they looked directly at the nearest human for help.

I know this look well – Cocoa does it to me any time he needs water in his bowl, or can’t get his favorite toy out from under some furniture. This is the essence of our responsibility: We have bred into dogs the necessity and understanding that they are to depend on us when there is a problem.
That is what makes it particularly cruel when, as one ASPCA ad puts it, the ones who care for these animals are the ones who abuse them. Abuse and neglect sends a dog a mixed message – while their nature compels them to stay with even a human that mistreats them.

This is especially troubling when it comes to small dog like Cocoa. In the smaller breeds, we have also bred out the things which enabled these animals to survive the way their lupine ancestors did. A dog like Cocoa doesn’t have the ability to fend for himself for very long – though it does appear that Cocoa bettered his chances by attaching himself to a larger group of dogs and serving as their “night watch”. We get hints of that during the night.

Nevertheless, here’s the bottom line: We’re responsible for the way these dogs are – which means, in my economy, we owe them one.


  1. Aww, Cocoa still looks bloody adorable JP! Nice to know the background of this little thing that watches over your household. (Which by the way, how many Jehovah Witnesses have they munched already? jhehe)

    btw, cats rule. ;)

  2. He's eaten at least three that we know of. We still find bones under the carpet.

    Cats rule, sure, but no one else wants charge of the litterbox anyway.

  3. Heheh, might as well prep up a little Trophy room for Cocoa, heehee.

    Heh, at least cats are tidier than dogs when it comes to, doing their business. (Dogs are a pain to train, not smart to figure it out on their own). :P