Taking the dog for a walk

We used to have a proper dog, Shiva, a large German shepherd mix with broad shoulders and golden eyes. She was as bright as some 5-year-old children.

She came when she was called and would lie respectfully by my chair in her spare time. A year before Shiva's demise, we got a small utility backup dog named Gus.

In some ways Gus is a better animal for a president of a university. He doesn't bark. He's comfortable around people and looks approachable.

He resembles Little Orphan Annie's dog Sandy. My wife, who acquired him from the animal rescue league at Eastern Market, imagines that he had, like Sandy, a traumatic early life.

That might explain his pathetic devotion to her. And why not? She buys him duck feet for treats, takes him for walks, lets him sit on her lap to watch TV. Compared to chasing squirrels for dinner and sleeping in the snow (the life she imagines he once led), he has fallen into a tub of butter.

Gus will come and sit respectfully by my chair, but if he does it's a sure sign that Jeanne is not home. He tolerates me. It's mutual.

Unlike a proper dog who comes when he is called, Gus can't be trusted to do his business outside and come back in. He needs to be walked.

That job usually falls to my wife, but she has been nursing a new hip lately. As I have taken on the responsibility, I have found myself thinking about the love of God.

Walking Gus is surprisingly hard work. He strains at the leash whenever he sees a squirrel, and for a small animal, he pulls with surprising strength. We follow a regular route; he stops at intervals to sniff and see if anyone has left a message for him. He leaves his own calling card.

I suspect he thinks he's doing important work. He polices the perimeter of the campus to see if foxes have crossed the border. He checks the rat trap near Caldwell Hall, one of our old buildings. When we encounter other dog walkers, he pauses to see if the animals have the proper ID.

It's diverting, cute even, to imagine the world as he might be viewing it. His is an altogether different conception from my own -- still more from my wife's.

I take the dog for walks because he needs exercise and because I want to avoid accidents in the house. Jeanne goes out with him because she loves his company and enjoys spending time with him.

I wonder if this is how God feels about accompanying us along the road. We strain at the leash, eager to chase whatever distraction draws our attention. We imagine we are doing important things, maybe even for him, in writing books and running universities.

But his thoughts are not our thoughts. He walks alongside us because he loves us and enjoys our company. He may also know that we need whatever exercise he has set before us. As for the things we undertake to do so self-importantly, I suspect he can't help but laugh to himself from time to time.

I have always sympathized with Martha in Luke's Gospel, slinging the pots and pans while Mary lounged around yacking with Jesus. But it helps me to think that maybe Martha was Gus in that story.

She thought she was on a mission for God, but he had an altogether different conception. He wanted to spend some time with her because he loved her. The cooking was her idea, and it didn't matter, really.

- Garvey is president of The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.