Good Shepherds

My dad and my three-legged dog are kindred souls.  It’s not because Pancho is missing a leg and Dad limps because of pinched nerves in his spine.  Neither is it because both are despised by Bambi, my mom’s obese Chihuahua.  Or because Dad’s specialty is ribs, and Pancho adores ribs.

Every time my dad sees Pancho, he pats my dog on the head and says, “You’re a good dog, but the only problem is that there’s not much call for good dogs these days.”  Pancho looks up at my dad, tongue hanging out of his mouth, and cocks his ears as if to say that’s exactly what he’s been thinking.

They’re a perfect pair, my dad and my dog, because they both know what it’s like to shepherd the unwilling.

For the first 35 years of my life, Dad was a pastor.  He preached an average of three times each week for all of those years, yet he was never able to work himself out of a job.  Just as often as not, people listened to what he had to say, put twenty bucks in the plate, then shook his hand and said “good sermon” before racing to the Piccadilly.  Then they went home and did the exact same thing they’d done the week before and the week before that.  You’d think that if a preacher were doing a decent job, his flock would begin to dwindle because they wouldn’t require the same level of guidance as they matured.  But that’s not the nature of church congregations. Or people.  The proof?  That church is bigger now than it’s ever been.

Pancho is an Australian shepherd whose flock is a pair of defiant dachshunds named Laverne and Shirley.  You’d think that at 10 and 8 years old, those girls would be slap out of new ways to get themselves into trouble.  But their kibble-sized brains are creative.  Pancho’s work is never done, and it’s a thankless job.  He can pull them out of the pool and set their feet on firm ground, and they will snarl at him as thanks for saving them.

Occasionally, Dad and Pancho’s flocks overlap.  When my sister’s kids are in town, both try to herd that pack.  Dad mostly uses the verbal and bribery-based methods of kid herding.  Pancho relies on circling them and pulling at their shirts.  So far, neither has had much success.

A few years ago, I went out of town and asked Dad to look after my dogs.  Laverne and Shirley got out of the fence and took off down the street toward the Publix with my dad chasing after them.  Pancho watched from inside the fence as if to say, it’s harder than it looks, isn’t it?

The retired preacher now refers to Laverne and Shirley as the two “little shits.”  Pancho just flops down on his beanbag chair with a snort.

I’ve been studying the nine Muses of Greek mythology, and I had to laugh when I read that Thalia, the Muse of Comedy, is depicted holding a shepherd’s staff. Throughout the ages, it seems, if you’re trying to lead others — whether they be your own kids, a church congregation, or even a pair of dachshunds – you only come out intact if you have a sense of humor.

Yep, they’re kindred souls, my dad and my dog.  Two old shepherds with gimp legs who aren’t quite ready to be put out to pasture.

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