For the past few weeks, my apartment has been under attack by an intruder.
While I usually experience the intruder’s attacks head on, I sometimes don’t discover her dastardly deeds until days later. I’ve suffered injuries and had valuable possessions destroyed. I’ve been woken up in the middle of the night by yelling, and have forgotten what it’s like to sleep past 5:30am. The most amazing thing? This intruder is three months old, weighs six pounds, and is unbelievably cute.
You see, just over a month ago, my girlfriend and I went to a local animal shelter to pick up the cutest Dachshund puppy we had ever seen. We had no idea that Shiloh Becker-Noble would eventually become what I call the “tiny canine terrorist who lives in our home.”
Now don’t get me wrong: I love this dog. She’s mostly well-behaved and friendly, and I don’t know what I did with all of my daily stress before puppy snuggles. But it certainly hasn’t been all sunshine and rainbows. She chews our carpet and pees anywhere she sees fit. In the past month alone, we’ve lost a lamp cord and a computer charger when she ripped them to shreds, and my laptop when she decided to take a potty break on the keyboard. Our baseboards, hands, and toes are marred with teeth marks, there’s a new hole in our bedsheets, and one corner of our carpet has been sufficiently shredded. She barks at planes flying overhead, and attempts to eat every piece of plastic she finds outside.
Although the damage, destruction, and noise haven’t been my favorite thing, the time commitments of a puppy have been far worse. Work and social commitments are constantly interrupted by the need to go home and take Shiloh out to do her puppy business. Without long walks, she sprints around our apartment, howling and whining until we take her down three flights of stairs to the small patch of grass outside. A timer is constantly running in the back of my mind: how long has Shiloh been home by herself? When should I head back to let her out again? When’s her next vet visit?
These commitments have been most challenging when they conflict with my schoolwork. As a divinity school student, most of my time is spent writing papers, reading long books, and frantically reviewing Hebrew flashcards. However, it seems like Shiloh has a built-in hyperactivity timer that consistently coincides with the time I’ve reserved for studying. Sitting down with a book or flashcards almost guarantees that Shiloh will instantly be biting at my ankles, peeing on the carpet, or climbing something she’s not supposed to.
Shiloh’s constant activity can feel like a burden on my daily schedule. While I tend to get excessively frustrated with Shiloh and her need for attention and stimulation, my girlfriend offers much more grace to our canine companion. “Remember,” she’ll often tell me, “She’s just a puppy. She doesn’t know any better.”
And it gets me thinking: what does Shiloh know? Mostly, she knows about the daily functions of her body: when she hurts, when she’s tired, when she’s curious. She does her best to communicate those knowings to us by barking, running, and playing. Since she’s teething, she knows that her gums hurt and she needs to chew on something. She knows when nature calls: when she needs to do her business and sometimes even throw up.
What Shiloh doesn’t know about are the systems that she and her owners live in. She doesn’t know that peeing on a laptop or ripping up the carpet means that her owners have to pay their landlord or a computer company extra money. She doesn’t know that we leave during the day because our economic system makes us choose between quality time with our loved ones and labor. She doesn’t know that wanting to play all the time can’t happen because her owners have to put in long hours at work and school to work for the possibility of a secure future.
Shiloh doesn’t know that the scary noises that wake her up are military planes that wreak death and destruction flying overhead, paid for by her owners’ tax dollars. She doesn’t know that the plastic packaging she tries to eat outside is the result of a wasteful consumer culture and corporate agriculture that threatens her health and the planet’s. She doesn’t know that it’s hard to find expanses of grass because of gentrifying urban sprawl that decimates poor communities and communities of color.
You see, Shiloh doesn’t actually impose on my way of life. The way I act, the way humanity acts, imposes on her way of life. Our systems of domination, oppression, and exploitation are grounded in what Rosemary Ruether calls a “patriarchal anthropology.” In this view of the cosmos, humans are destined to a life of “ruling over others, superior to them, and escaping our common mortality.” Our priorities and desires come first, and we subjugate the needs of the Shilohs of the world to uphold our middle-class comforts. We replace biological harmony with technological colonization of the natural world and our fellow living beings. We replace social harmony with social sin.
During Lent, we are called to repentance, to “turn away from sin and be faithful to the Good News.” In the Hebrew Bible, repentance is described as teshuva, from the root word shuv, which means “to turn.” So how can we turn from structures of domination and towards a life-giving model of collaboration and symbiosis?
In the Gospel of Matthew , Jesus instructs his followers to cast off the worries of human life. He calls them to “consider the birds of the air” and “consider the lilies of the field,” since they aren’t bound to the sowing, reaping, toiling, and spinning of human existence. Perhaps in our 21st-century context, we should “consider the puppies,” and the world of right relationship and mutual respect they call us into.
Still not thrilled about that laptop, though.