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Dear Judy

I first thought about getting a dog when I realised how rubbish I am at taking care of myself. I felt uneasy on my own in church. I wasn’t giving myself enough time to rest and recharge. I wasn’t getting enough exercise. I was working stupid hours. I wasn’t eating properly. And I often felt angry and depressed. As pathetic as it was, I hoped that bringing a dog into my life would force me to keep a healthier ‘work-life balance’, whatever that might mean for a priest.

Let’s face it, I was naive. And the first three months were a challenge. You had never been out of the kennels, never seen stairs, never been without other dogs, never lived in a city centre, never been left alone. You howled and cried and made a bit of a mess at times. I had no idea what you needed or how to make you feel safe and secure. There were days when I wondered if you would ever be happy here or if you would be better off with someone else who understood you.

But I have learned. I had no idea so much had been written about dog psychology, but I read and read and read some more until I figured out what works for you. I have sourced the best food possible for your sensitive greyhound stomach. You now have more coats than I do so that you will be comfortable in all kinds of Scottish weather. I have bought you toys and treats and blankets for both your homes in Edinburgh and the Borders, and I now know not to take you anywhere without your squeaky duck elephant.**

Thank you, Judy, for your patience with me over these past six months.

But thank you also for the lessons you are teaching me, because I am proving a slower learner than you ever were:

— I got you so I would feel safer. But what I have learned is that the people I used to cross the street to avoid now cross the street with me to say hello to you, to ask about your racing history, to gently stroke your soft ears. Yes, there are some people who wish to cause harm, but there are many more who wish to be kind, however awkwardly they express it at times.

— I got you so I would have ‘me’ time out walking. But what I have learned is that having a dog, whether I’m wearing my clericals or not, means that people stop me, tell me about their dog who died, tell me about the hole it has left in their lives, about the other griefs they have known, and before I know it, they are crying tears of gratitude because someone has listened to them, really listened.

— I got you so that I would remember to do the things that were good for me: eat regular meals, get plenty of exercise, take breaks. But what I have learned is that these things do not have to be extra obligations in an already busy schedule. They can be times of joy. Your enthusiasm for food never wanes; you adore walks, especially in new places; every time I come into the lounge, you greet me as though you have not seen me for years. Your energy and optimism are a canine cliche, but you are teaching me to find joy and beauty in the ordinary moments of everyday life.

— I got you in the hope that all these things would make me feel less angry and less depressed. But what I have learned is that while you need to know what is expected of you, my confidence and consistency have shaped your behaviour more than scolding. Gentleness has gained me your trust. And kindness has won me your loyalty. And in that regard, you are not actually all that different from people. You’ve taught me a lot about leadership and a lot about how to be kinder and gentler with others…. and myself.

Judy, six months ago, I said I wanted a dog. I had no idea what I was letting into my life, how much I would learn, how happy you would make me. And now, I can’t imagine what life would be like if I didn’t come down the stairs in the morning to find this goofiness waiting for me, because there simply is no better way to start the day.

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Thank you, Judy.

* Actually Monday is your proper anniversary, but it felt disrespectful to post this trivial post on the day of a rather more significant anniversary.

** As I was writing this, your favourite duck squeaked its last.

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