That was no ordinary dog. This was a dog to remember. It was Jesus’ dog. Yes, you heard me correctly. He was the very dog that Jesus raised and trained, walked and fed, whose poo he scooped up with his pooper-scooper, whose teeth he cleaned with rawhide bones and real bones from the butcher, bones that made Jesus’ dog fierce and loyal, obedient and attentive, man and god’s best friend. Jesus’ dog was a mix, a mongrel, a mutt, but it was mostly pit and Staffy, a little boxer, maybe a touch bulldog, small, compact, muscular, wiry, Jesus’ dog was fast and agile, almost catlike in how he leaped and bounded. When I say Jesus’ dog, I mean the son of Mary and Joseph’s dog, and that he was the dog of dogs, a dog’s dog, the ultimate dog, the paradigm, the prototype, the wolf still in its eyes, even a touch of bear, though not fish or fowl. The dog that Jesus had was a good dog, smart and ferocious, growly and almost vulnerable to a kind hand on the head from its master, a keen scratch to its underbelly. Its color was neither black nor white, yellow or blue or red, but a kind of brindle, blackish here, brownish there, his coat tight to the body, no dander, no hackles, a dog that could be as cheerful as the sunshine, and yet occasionally as moody and dark, as a sudden rain cloud. Bigger dogs might play with Jesus’ dog, and they both would chase each other over the fields. But if another dog showed the slightest sign of bullying Jesus’ dog, it scrunched down and went into a fearful symmetry of attack mode, quickly going behind the big aggressive dog and then coming up into its tender underbelly, ripping it apart with its canine teeth ravenously. It would lock on, using its muscular little body to propel the cutting edges of its jaw, slicing open the bigger dog’s belly. The only way to get the smaller dog off the bigger one was for Jesus to place his hands around his dog’s thick neck and choke it mercilessly until it gagged, thus breaking the killer grip that locked Jesus’ dog onto the bigger animal. At other times, Jesus’ dog was almost docile, wagging its pointy, long tail back and forth like a pendulum metronomically. When it was in a playful mood, it smiled, disarming everyone, even Jesus. Did dogs smile? Wasn’t this simply a dog’s grimace, and to call it a smile was to anthropomorphize the creature, in fact, it was to misunderstand the very nature of this dog, a domestic animal, to be sure, but one which Jesus and everyone should be wary, less it revert to its more primitive nature of the out-and-out beast. But a smile it was and smiling Jesus’ dog did do, not laughing or guffawing, just plain smiling. Besides smiling, Jesus’ dog, if not capable of human and heavenly thought, seemed to read Jesus’ emotional aura, if not his mind, with uncanny accuracy. The wrath of god was one register the dog surmised, acting accordingly, as best friend and ally. If Jesus was fearful or doubting, the dog picked this up and nudged his leg or licked his hand, letting Jesus know that not only did the dog understand, it felt compassion and great sympathy for Jesus’ emotional condition. If Jesus was feeling magnanimous or profound, spiritual or goofy, the dog mirrored these states, never barking—it was never a barking kind of dog except late at night when Jesus took the dog out for its final nightly walk in the neighborhood, then the dog let out a few cautionary barks to passersby, letting them know that the dog was there to protect its owner, just as the owner was there to protect his dog—so instead of barking, the dog wagged, pranced, sat patiently, and even cocked its head to one side, as if better to listen to Jesus’ sermonizing on the mount, at the temple, or wherever their journeys took them. Jesus might shout and holler, thunder clap with exclamatory glee or ecclesiastical warning, might shout Hallelujah! or simply kneel in the street and pray, not for himself, but for us, the world around him, and Jesus’ dog stood by, watching the crowds, even the nearby cars, so that its master would remain well, not get crucified on the street corner for kneeling to pray in the midst of a busy street uptown. Jesus had a lot of verbal hiccoughs, his Hallelujahs being one of them, Huzzah being another, That’s It! yet a third, Amen, followed by the word Brother or Sister, Amen, Y’all, Amen, Amen, and the dog seemed to prick up its ears anticipating miracles. The dog not only seemed to comprehend these ecstatic states that Jesus might fall into, it seemed to anticipate them, positioning its master in such a way, so that if the spirit possessed Jesus, the master would not fall down and harm himself, would not knock his head against a wall or fall to the pavement, hurting himself in any way, grievous or otherwise. The dog could sense that, and act accordingly. Jesus liked to say that not only was his dog his best friend, his dog was an angel and a saint, a companion, a spirit of forgiveness, a chain of hope, a bond of freedom, a testament to all goodness, a compassion, an unfretting togetherness, a comrade. Yes, Jesus called the dog a comrade, which made others prick up their ears. What did he mean by that word, comrade? Well, it meant what you meant it to mean, he said enigmatically, but then again Jesus was known to speak in mysterious ways his wonders to behold, as they say, so who am I to question his patriotism or loyalty? People often said that Jesus either bought the dog from a pet shop or went to the pound, picking the dog from one of the stuffy, airless cages. But neither assertion would be true. He found the dog in an alleyway, taking a short cut to the temple where he hoped to argue with the elders about taxes and moral virtue, a pound of flesh, an eye for an eye, turning the other cheek, the high cost of losing our youths to drugs and crime on the street, our treatment of the elderly, the infirm, the frail and vulnerable. Children are the lambs of god, he liked to say, why is it we are taking them for granted? Why is it that some elders abuse these children? So Jesus cut through the alleyway, and there the dog was, growling at him, pinned like a rat in a corner, ready to spring. Jesus spoke softly and steadily, raising his hand in that way which dogs seem to understand as the Stay command. Sit, he said, and the dog did. Roll over, Jesus said, and the dog did. Heel, Jesus said, and the dog followed. We will heal the sick and raise the dead, Jesus said. The dog wagged its tail, strutting alongside of its new master. They had been together ever since that fateful meeting in the alleyway. The dog was Jesus’ constant companion until the end, and although Jesus was young, these were to prove to be the latter years of his life, for he was to die young, and tragically, killed in his prime. It is an old story in the ghetto, the best get laid to waste, while the worst seem to flourish in the godless universe. After Jesus’ death, the dog kept going back to the place where his master was laid to rest, but the dog never saw Jesus again, even though Jesus was said to come back from the dead, miraculously according to some of his friends, though his detractors said the story was a lot of crap. Jesus’ dog did not simper or cry, but came to the sepulcher and sat there, waiting and waiting for his master’s return. He was a kind of sentinel, an omen of the future, waiting there for his master to come back from the dead, pet him on the head, walk him around the park, throw a stick in the air and tell the dog to fetch it. The dog sat there, noble and silent, Jesus’ dog until the end.
MG STEPHENS is the author of eighteen books, including the novels The Brooklyn Book of the Dead and Season at Coole, as well as such nonfiction works as Lost in Seoul and Green Dreams. He grew up in Brooklyn and out on Long Island and has lived for many years in London.