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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

James Herriot and Jimmy Stewart's Dog Named Beau

In one of James Herriot's books about his life as a vet in Yorkshire, England (I'm not sure which one -- "All Creatures Great and Small," "All Things Bright and Beautiful," "All Things Wise and Wonderful," "The Lord God Made Them All"), he tells a story about a boy who was one of the meanest kids in town -- until he got a puppy and was almost immediately transformed into a different person. The puppy followed him everywhere, and he loved that dog with all his soul. And for a brief moment in time, the meanest kid in town no longer was. But then his dog was hit by a car, he reverted to his earlier self, and grew into an unloving adult. Reflecting on this Herriot believed that this boy might have grown into someone very differently if that puppy hadn't been hit by the car. For a short period of time, he learned what it meant to show compassion for something other than himself.

Now, I don't have any empirical proof, but I believe that Herriot was on to something here. My sense is that people who love animals are more likely to be kind to all of God's creatures (great and small) than are those who do not. This is not to say that everyone who loves pets is guaranteed to be compassionate, nor is it to say that those who do not love pets will never be capable of expressing love for others. Rather, it's simply to argue that those who are able to love dogs, cats, horses, and so on are more likely to show compassion to others. That is why when I see someone grieving over the loss (or potential loss) of a pet, my immediate thought is that here is someone who cares.

And that brings us to Jimmy Stewart, who in addition to being a great actor, was also a pet lover. And if you ever saw him read his poem about his dog named "Beau" on the Johnny Carson show, then you know what I mean. If you haven't seen it, then here's your chance. I happened to see this when it first broadcast, and when I saw it, I couldn't help but think that not only was Stewart one of the greatest actors of all time, but he was probably a pretty good guy as well.

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