Some time back two distinguished members of our local religious community offered their opinions on whether or not dogs have souls.

Well, if my vote counts for anything, I cast mine with the one who concluded that yes, they do. More to the point, I agree with Mark Twain who observed that "Heaven goes by favor. If it went by merit, you would stay out and your dog would go in."

If there is not scripture to support that, there should be.

I have lived with dogs all my life and I can still call them by name: Spot, Wrinkles, Joe, George and Martha (beagles I got on Washington's birthday), Susie, Sooner, Elvis, Max, Useless, Judge, Mogi, Caleb ("a name I always admired" - "Jeremiah Johnson" fans will understand), Quoddy, Sophie, and on down to Freckles and Sprinkles.

Each holds a special place in my memory. Elvis, the Dalmatian, was deaf. Max, the Dachshund became his ears. They went everywhere together, until one day Elvis ventured out alone and was hit by a car. Max soon wandered off and never returned. I am convinced he grieved himself to death.

Now I know that there are those among you who will chide me for ascribing human emotions to dumb animals. Let me suggest instead, that the world would be a better place if animal emotions were mimicked by dumb humans.

Once upon a time we had three dogs.

There is Sprinkles, older than a decade, gray and irritable, she ate, slept in the sun and did not like to be disturbed. Freckles, her littermate, died back before she did. I was afraid Sprinkles would pine away. She didn't, which leaves me wondering if she ever liked her sister.

Then there is Libby. A black Lab that came to us because my brother-in-law breeds Labs and this one, the runt of the litter, was left over. She came over my objections, yet despite my vow to have nothing to do with her, she became my beach-buddy. She comes when I call. She plays fetch, as Labs are inclined to do. She is lots of fun and not much trouble.

Shortly after Freckles died, we got Willow--or at least my daughter did. A chocolate Lab from that same brother-in-law. My son got a yellow Lab which he proceeded to name Bo and take with him to Auburn.

So there they were--Sprinkles, the octogenarian (in dog years). Libby, in her prime. And Willow, all puppy.

And being all puppy, from the start she was in and out between our feet as we walked. And being old and not nimble as I once was, a few days after she arrived I stepped on her. I had never before heard such cries of fear and pain and I hope I never do again. We rushed her to the vet. Her leg was broken. The vet operated, put in a pin, and when she came home the next day she wagged her tail and licked my nose.

"If you had broken my leg," my loving wife observed, "there would be no tail wagging or nose licking."

I withheld any comment.

Willow quickly recovered and was as full of herself as a puppy should be. She and Libby play wide open then fall in a heap, sleep it off, and rise to go at it again.

Meanwhile, Sprinkles rests with one eye open, ready to growl Willow away if she gets too close.

Now we didn't have a big yard. But it was fenced and there are bushes and trees and ivy for playing in. And dirt for digging, which Labs loved to do.

The yard once belonged to Sprinkles and Freckles. Then to Sprinkles and Libby. Then it was Willow's.

To a little puppy, it must look like an estate.

One morning I put Libby and Willow out to do, as we say, "their business." Libby, who seems to value privacy, went down into the bushes.

Willow went to the top of a small rise, sat down, and surveyed the scene as if to say "all this is mine."

Or maybe she was thinking thoughts too complex for mere mortals to comprehend, pondering the existence of God or why all dogs are not as lucky as she.

Or maybe she was just wondering if breakfast was ready yet.

That is the beauty of dogs. We don't know what they are thinking. But whatever it is, when they translate it into action they often do things that convince us that Mark Twain was right when he observed that "A dog is a gentleman; I hope to go to his heaven, not man's."

I do like dogs. They set a good example for us all.

Harvey H. ("Hardy") Jackson is Professor Emeritus of History at Jacksonville State University. He can be reached at hjackson@cableone.net

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