old dogs

Our dog’s name is Emma – that’s a problem right off the bat, as Emma is the single most popular girl’s name in America. Which gave us this awkward moment:

Emma gets past the invisible fence in our yard. So now I’m running around the neighborhood shouting her name. Within minutes, our new neighbors have formed an old-timey posse, frantically tugging on their shoes to help me search for my missing daughter. (“No, it’s okay!” I’m calling to them. “I mean, it’s not okay, my dog is missing, but it’s okay for you! Don’t call the cops, it’s fine!”)

Emma – named by Liz’s father as a puppy – had a lot more energy back then. That was back when she could run for days. Back when the only thing that mattered to her more than food was playing fetch. 

I’m not even kidding about the fetch thing. That time she ran away?  I found her maybe half a mile away, in the front yard of this house in early evening, playing fetch with an entire family, kids and everything. All of them looked utterly giddy because a Labrador with a preternatural ability to catch an object in her mouth had fallen from heaven to play with them.

So I pulled into the driveway and got out of the car and I was like “Hi! Sorry! That’s actually my dog.” And this family looked skeptical because Emma wasn’t coming to me when I called her and the reason she wasn’t coming  to me because their dumb kid was still playing fetch with her. So the dad goes “Are you sure?” which was totally embarrassing. I couldn’t explain that my dog could be in the shadow of an erupting volcano and she would still chase a thrown tennis ball. 

Now that her legs are betraying her, Emma doesn’t play fetch. She can’t jump into the back of the SUV anymore – I now have to lift her, like a Chinook helicopter transporting an elephant. Mostly she likes to lie down with her paw draped over a stuffed frog Lucy gave her.

In the photo above, Emma is lying down because a few weeks back she was really sick. She had gotten into the chocolate – that can be fatal for dogs. She wouldn’t move from the kitchen. So after following all kinds of vet recommendations on trying to get her to throw up (the less you know the better), and not knowing what else to do, I just kind of laid down with her, the same way I used to do when Finn was a baby, in his crib for the first time. I would just sleep on the floor next to him, because I was anxious that something might happen to him – what, I don’t know, but I felt better being next to him.

Emma, in her old age, actually needs us again. The way my hearing was trained to detect the slightest peep from our kids in the middle of the night, I now hear Emma shuffling downstairs, her nails tapping the hardwood steps, when she needs to go outside. She’s decided she now wants breakfast at 5:45 a.m. And I’m fine with all of it. She doesn’t race to the door when we come home anymore, but she still loves us. 

I once saw a bumper sticker that said “I want to be the person my dog thinks I am.”

But I think that’s a bit off, because your dog actually doesn’t think you’re that person.

That’s exactly what we love about dogs. They love you regardless of whether you are good or bad. Your dog loves you because your dog loves you. You didn’t earn it. That’s what makes dogs so special. It’s radical love. It’s a kind of love I read about in my faith, something that seems impossible to live out. And yet there it is, right under our noses, padding around our house, looking for rubs and sniffing around for stray meatballs.

So I’d edit that bumper sticker to: “I Want to Be the Christian My Dog Is.”

Which everyone would think was totally weird, but whatever, it’s my bumper sticker. This is what I actually mean:

-I want to be able to love unconditionally.

-I want to be so grateful for food that I tap dance with joy.

-I want to be able to forgive, immediately and forever.

-I want to be humble enough to drink from a toilet when I’m thirsty.

-I want to live in a community.

-I want to protect my house from trespassers with righteous barking.

-I want to be appropriately repentant when I’ve done wrong.

-I want to treat everyone the same, whether they are wealthy or poor or interesting or boring or smart or dumb, because we are all worthy of that.

And let’s face it people, this doesn’t go for every pet. Dogs are one of a kind.

Which brings us to:

The Top Five Animals I Would Turn Down If Offered to Me as a Pet 

1. Rat.

Seriously? Because I’ve seen people with pet rats. If somebody gave me a pet rat I would build a cage with the specs of the original Sing-Sing prison. Fourteen foot poured-concrete walls, stuff like that. I’d have the rat food lowered in by drone. 

2. Parrot.

You buy a parrot, you better mean it. Those things can live seventy-five years. Which means you better get it when you’re a baby, or you’re going to be staring at that parrot every day knowing it’s going to outlive you. And that’s not a pet. That’s a hotbed of resentment.

3. Hamster.

My kids want a hamster. But in first grade we had a class hamster named Grahamster or Ham Solo or something and the teacher let us pass it around and when it got to me it pooped in my hand. No thanks, hamster.

4. Snake.

So much better in theory than in practice, having a pet snake. Seems kind of awesome, then you get it home and you stare at it for five minutes and you’re like “I’m done” but the snake is like “I need food, bro” and suddenly you realize that you have to feed it a live mouse every day and your bedroom turns into a Nightly Death Chamber of Horrors. 

5. Cat.

Listen, cats are actually pretty cool animals, I’m not denying that. But Liz and I once house-sat a place with a cat and that cat would sleep all day and then in the middle of the night it would hop up on the bed and literally try to sleep on my face. It wouldn’t utter a sound all day but at night if you tried to put it outside the bedroom door it would be all like MEOW!

I don’t know how much longer we’ll have Emma for, but I’m grateful for her. She grew up with my kids, she took care of Liz before we were together. She’s been our doorbell and our watchdog and she chases away loneliness. Our dog thinks she is literally part of our family. We like to think that too.

By | 2018-03-07T08:01:54+00:00 March 7th, 2018|34 Comments


  1. Mari Catherine March 7, 2018 at 8:12 am - Reply

    I love this!!! And if you decide to print your bumper sticker, I will be the first to order. Thanks, Conor.

    • Conor March 7, 2018 at 8:15 am - Reply

      Thanks Mari! We’ll be bumper sticker buddies!

  2. Fred March 7, 2018 at 8:25 am - Reply

    I think there aren’t better family for Emma other than yours. She has great life surrounded by love.
    Pet her for me Connor!

    • Conor March 7, 2018 at 8:57 am - Reply

      Emma will be very happy to get that news, Fred – thanks!

  3. Patty March 7, 2018 at 8:34 am - Reply

    Beautiful piece! I’ll take one of one of those bumper stickers for our 14 year old lab!

    • Conor March 7, 2018 at 8:57 am - Reply

      Bumper sticker buddies!! 14 years old – wow. Awesome.

  4. Marcy Prager March 7, 2018 at 8:57 am - Reply

    Ok, This post made me cry. I also have an older dog named Maggie, a labradoodle. I give her AtivFlex tablets every day to help her out with her achy joints and mobility. Maggie has always loved children and is extra gentle with them. When she used to bolt out my front door if it was open just a centimeter for three seconds, I would find her in the back field running…She would only come back if I brought the car and ask her if she wanted to go for a car ride. Maggie follows me from room to room, upstairs and downstairs. I now buy her very high priced dog food from the vet because the best of pet food from the pet store would make her vomit. I have had dogs since I graduated college. As they get older, I start to melt down, knowing that soon it will be time… Now, the older I get, it is even tougher to consider that Maggie does not have much time left. So in the meantime, I spend as much time as I can with my baby, making sure all of her needs are met. She is one of my best friends and will always be a part of our family. By the way, Maggie can still play fetch pretty well!

    • Conor March 7, 2018 at 8:58 am - Reply

      I love this Marcy!! This is our future and our present. They just love to be around us, and they hang around for us – if that’s not family I don’t know what is.

  5. Elsa March 7, 2018 at 9:50 am - Reply

    What a perfect read this morning. A tear, a chuckle, and a message to hold onto all day.
    Love everything about this. So good.

    • Conor March 7, 2018 at 10:13 am - Reply

      Miss you Elsa!!

  6. dorian March 7, 2018 at 10:19 am - Reply

    Ah, Emma loves you and you clearly love Emma. This is so beautiful, Connor. But, I’m slightly disturbed your house is littered with stray meatballs.

    • Conor March 7, 2018 at 10:22 am - Reply

      They’re not stray for long, I’ll tell you that right now.

  7. Jen March 7, 2018 at 10:53 am - Reply

    What a feast of ideas! I’ll be mulling this over for some time to unpack what it means for me to be the Christian my dogs are… and the visual of a Nightly Death Chamber of Horrors will also take some time to get out of my head. Our Cody is about 10 years old and probably won’t be with us much longer because of health issues and his brother Cooper will be just as lost amd devastated as we will be when he’s gone because he really is part of the family.

    • Conor March 7, 2018 at 11:01 am - Reply

      No to snakes! We can all agree! And sweet Cody! Good name for a dog! We’re looking at getting 2 dogs next….

  8. Glenn Beamer March 7, 2018 at 11:45 am - Reply

    This is great. Snaps or props or fist-pumping or whatever it is the young people do today en re your use of the word “preternatural,” it’s one of my favorite words. Your post brought to mind a post from you, circa 2007 about how Emma could not understand that anyone would ever put on their shoes or sneakers without taking her out.

    • Conor March 7, 2018 at 12:09 pm - Reply

      Hey Glenn! Ha! Good memory! The amount of energy that dog had could have powered the MTA.

  9. dad March 7, 2018 at 12:25 pm - Reply

    Lovely, real, enduring Emma. Nice and right one, Conor.

    • Conor March 7, 2018 at 12:27 pm - Reply

      Our sweet old dog!

      • Anne March 9, 2018 at 1:16 am - Reply

        Recognizing myself in your story literally makes me laugh out loud! Your observations about aspiring to the “Christian” character of our canines are spot on (except maybe in their choice of drink ware – which seems to me more indiscriminate than humble!). I love how your humor lurks around my short term memory and makes me smile in the coming days, reminding me in that easy place that follows laughter, that I can walk out my faith a little better keeping my eyes on Christ. You are a blessing. Thanks for writing!

        • Conor March 9, 2018 at 7:49 am - Reply

          Thanks for reading Anne!!

  10. Liz March 7, 2018 at 6:14 pm - Reply

    I love how you loved Emma from the start. Because you loved me.

    • Conor March 7, 2018 at 6:56 pm - Reply


  11. Laurie Klein March 7, 2018 at 8:04 pm - Reply

    Love this Conor! I agree with everything you say….except the part about wanting to be able to drink water from a toilet. I’ll pass on that one. I’m a dog person too. Thanks for sharing your talented gift of writing with us. I love reading your posts!

    • Conor March 7, 2018 at 8:57 pm - Reply

      Thanks so much Laurie! And Emma makes it look so delicious, that toilet water…

  12. Maz Nettleton March 8, 2018 at 12:13 am - Reply

    Hi Conor! You are blessed with a writing talent that blesses us as well. I just finished listening to your narration of Little Princes for the second time ( had to share with my husband on a road trip). Your book was one that I hated to come to an end, but I’m glad I can now look forward to reading your weekly blogs. This one about good Christian Emma is especially touching. Thank you for continuing to share your thoughts and talent with us.

    • Conor March 8, 2018 at 7:06 am - Reply

      Thanks for reading/listening Maz! That’s a whole lot of Conor talking. Great endurance by you all.

  13. Neena March 8, 2018 at 5:59 pm - Reply

    Maybe that’s why Dog spelled backwards is God because they display his nature As well. We can learn a lot from our pet children! Well written as usual Connor. Thank you!

    • Conor March 8, 2018 at 6:38 pm - Reply

      Thanks so much Neena!!

  14. Sue March 8, 2018 at 7:15 pm - Reply

    I had to drink a cup of tea to take care of the lump in my throat reading your blog and staring at Emma. I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for her-even when she devoured the one-pound box of See’s chocolates, the gift meant for the Grennan’s.

    • Conor March 8, 2018 at 7:32 pm - Reply

      She loves when you visit Sue!!

  15. Kayla March 10, 2018 at 11:06 am - Reply

    t’s so bizarre to think of Emma as anything other than a puppy (surprise!)

    • Conor March 10, 2018 at 4:34 pm - Reply

      For us too!!

  16. Kelly MacNeal March 14, 2018 at 12:05 pm - Reply

    Late to read this post, but wow. Just wow. Fellow dog lover, here. I’ll take a bumper sticker too please!:)

    • Conor March 14, 2018 at 1:20 pm - Reply

      We need more bumper stickers all around.

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