Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News
February 16, 2003
Old friends are one of life’s most precious treasures
Many of the world’s animals hang out together. On the farm growing up I saw cows, horses, hogs, sheep, and chickens socializing in groups, large and small.
What I never saw was two animals that seemed to be best friends. No cow or horse ever nudged me on the arm and said, “This is my friend Charlie.”
Bring dogs into the picture and I reckon you could make a case, though a flimsy one, for the idea that two dogs sometimes appear to be friends. But mostly they just run and play together.
The concept of friendship, especially loving friendship, is reserved for human relationships. Human beings can develop friendships that the so-called lower animals can never enjoy.
Lovers of cats and dogs sometimes press me to believe that a human being and an animal can have a strong, loving friendship. That I cannot embrace.
A strong relationship perhaps, but not one that is deserving of the word “friendship.” People can be friends. People can love their friends.
When a person tells me, “I love my dog,” I understand that to be a misuse of the word “love.” People may indeed love an animal, but they would be wiser if they “liked” animals and loved people.
“But,” someone will object, “My dog is my best friend!”
No, dear, I must point out, your dog cannot be your friend. Dogs are incapable of friendship. Your dog cannot love you. Your horse cannot love you. Your cat cannot love you. People can love. Animals cannot.
Still another protest is made: “My dog would die for me!” Perhaps. But it will not be because your dog loves you. Call it instinct. Call it whatever you wish, but do not call it love.
Your dog may lick your hand, sit in your lap, eat food off your dinner plate, but your dog is unable to love you. Your dog may defend you and risk death trying to protect you, but love will not be its motivation.
Your dog may be “like” a companion and go with you wherever you go. You may be so attached to your dog that you consider the two of you inseparable. You may talk to your dog as though the dog is a person, but that will never cause the dog to have human capabilities.
When I was a boy I had a Shetland pony. I named her Josephine. If you had asked me back then, I would have told you that I loved Josephine. We were inseparable. I rode her every day. I fed her, rubbed her, and even talked to her.
I also had a beautiful Bulldog. With little imagination I named him “Bull.” For several years Bull was my buddy, my constant companion. We romped and played together. He licked my face. I fed him and talked to him. Bull growled at strangers, but he recognized me even in the dark and played the role of my protector.
Then I grew up. I met a woman named Dean and fell in love with her. I formed strong friendships with people who became, and remain, dear to me. Finally, I realized my affection for a horse and a dog was in a different category from the love I felt for my family, my wife, my children, and my friends.
Roy Rogers liked Trigger. He liked Trigger a lot. But he loved Dale Evans. Dale returned Roy’s love in ways Trigger never could. Roy and Dale were friends and lovers in a dimension beyond anything Trigger could ever comprehend.
Now I am an old man. A lot of things have changed, and my life keeps changing every day. I am glad I once had a horse and a dog. I liked them, and they were important to me. I enjoyed a strong attachment to Josephine and Bull, but they were animals, nothing more.
In the twilight of my light I think sometimes of an old poem that went, I think, like this:
“New friends are like autumn leaves, found everywhere. Old friends are like diamonds, precious but rare.”
The concluding line eludes me at the moment. Perhaps some friend will remember it and share it with me. I think the poet reminds us to take good care of our old friends.
I know now that my friends are more precious than diamonds. And I would not trade one of them for a thousand show dogs or all the grand walking horses in Tennessee.
Who can estimate the value of one good friend? A good friend will never lick your face, but when the chips are down, the love of a good friend will be worth more to you than all the gold in Ft. Knox.
Now go walk your dog. Enjoy your dog. Ride your horse. Milk your cow. Slop the hogs. Feed the chickens. Like animals to your heart’s content.
But love your friends and thank God for them. They are your greatest treasure.