Unitarian Universalist Church of Olinda
news of our historic UU church in Ruthven (Kingsville), Ontario

That Time I Almost Stole a Dog

September 18th, 2022 . by Rod Solano-Quesnel

Time for All Ages – Ancient Husky Melody – The Kiffness, ft. Haiku the Husky

As the feast of St. Francis of Assisi approaches on October 4, many people take an opportunity pay extra special attention to animals in their lives, St. Francis is said to have been an advocate for animal welfare.

In that spirit, here is this video from South African musician The Kiffness, who likes take short viral videos, find the music in them, and then create a full song out of them. This one is from his “Dog Jams” collection and features Haiku the Husky, who is a keen singer.

The Kiffness x Haiku the Husky – Ancient Husky Melody (3 June, 2022)

Sermon – That Time I Almost Stole a Dog – Rev. Rod


Read: [Printable PDF document available for download]

The story I’m about to tell you is about a volcano, but it’s actually about the volcano’s lore, although, it’s actually about a dog – and the time I almost stole this dog (or so it seemed).

Let’s start with the volcano.  Last week I shared a bit about the lore surrounding the Mexica (or Aztec) god of rain and water: Tlaloc.  I also briefly mentioned his consort Chalchiuhtlicue, goddess of streams, rivers, and seas – another water deity.  The goddess’ name can be translated as “she of the jade skirt”, and the stone or ceramic representations of her often bear a skirt, which would have been presumably painted with green-blue pigments (jade being a precious stone that represents water).

There is another, perhaps more tangible representation of her, and that is a volcano in central Mexico, whose traditional name (Matlacueye) also means “she of the blue skirt”, presumably because its foothills, which are covered with coniferous forest trees, display an array of green and bluish hues.  It has, in effect a forested skirt of jade trees.

Perhaps confusingly, this volcano is now often known by another name: Malintzin, named after an Indigenous woman who became the interpreter, guide, and later partner, to the infamous Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés.  Because of her role, Malintzin can be a polarizing figure in Mexican culture, sometimes seen as a traitor due to her collaboration with the conquest, and other times seen as a victim of that conquest, but she is also sometimes seen as a kind of founding national figure, almost a mother figure.  Her child with Cortés is one of the first Mestizos – that is, children of mixed European and Indigenous background.  Many – perhaps most – Mexicans identify as Mestizo, including me.

Back to Malintzin – the volcano that is named after her, but which is also associated with the water goddess – this volcano is part of the volcanic belt that lines central Mexico.  It’s a reasonably high peak – enough to be a worthwhile and fulfilling challenge to climb – but also manageable enough that most able-bodied people in reasonable fitness can climb it with minimal training or equipment, in the space of one day.  Most of the time, all you need is a good pair of hiking boots, some reasonable hiking prep, and a willingness to get up early.

I’ve hiked this volcano a few times, and have reached its summit once.  This past summer, we put visiting it on our list.  We brought my mom along with a small group of people, for a social hike.

The volcano is part of a National Park, and includes a publicly-funded mountainside resort, with family-sized cabins and a few amenities.  There are guided hikes as well as horseback rides for hire.  You could spend a good weekend there just breathing in the fresh mountain air and glimpsing awe-inspiring views.  Being more adventurous might include going for a trot on a horse, trying out a hillside hike, and maybe even attempting a summit climb.

We approached this visit with a healthy dose of anticippointment.  We didn’t discount reaching the summit, but thought we’d aim for something more manageable, like reaching the treeline, just where the jade skirts of the volcano end, and the mountain’s incline start to rise into a sandy dessert – a reasonable goal for even better views and a modest sense of accomplishment.

We started our hike a bit late, but still expected that reaching the treeline would be a reasonable goal.  The way up follows a winding dirt trail, flanked by aromatic pine and wild plants.  Despite the many twists and turns, my compass confirmed that we were generally following the right direction – even if it didn’t always look that way.

In what felt like the halfway point to the treeline, we took a break and settled down for a snack.  As we rested, we saw a group of people climbing down after their own hike, followed by a handsome dog, a white and brown cocker spaniel with a blue collar.  “What an adorable dog,” we said to the downward-hiking group, “what’s his name?”

The group shrugged, “He’s not ours!  He just started following us on our way down.”

We noticed the dog was limping, and his fur was covered in burrs – dozens of them.  My mom has a history of rescuing dogs, and she instinctively leaned down to inspect his paw.  Sarah got busy removing the burrs from his fur.  The other group of hikers kept on with their trek down the mountainside, and the dog stayed with us, welcoming our attention.

While he had a blue collar on, there was no ID on him, no name, address, or phone number.  We stayed for a while on the trail, and as people came down, no one lay claim to him.

Then a set of tricky questions settled upon us.  Should we continue up?  With or without the dog?  Should we split up, with some of us climbing and others staying with the dog?  Should we even stay with the dog or let him go on his way?

I noticed that the dog seemed to know his way down the mountainside trail, which he had followed with confidence, and suggested that we could simply let him find his own way down toward the cabin resort – perhaps he’d have a better chance of meeting his family there, since no one was making a claim up here.

This was not a popular suggestion.  Sarah’s gaze made it clear she wanted to stay with the dog and look after him until we found out more about his situation.

We fed the dog, and I gave him some water into a collapsible dish I was carrying.  He thirstily lapped it up and eagerly asked for a refill, I obliged.  We even gave him a provisional name – Mali, after the volcano Malintzin.

Should we not find his family, I wondered if my mom would decide to keep Mali – he might be good company for her other dog.  She thought she might do that, but she also remembered that we had been thinking of adopting a dog – wouldn’t we want to bring him with us?

This possibility began to seem like a growing reality.  We liked the dog, and he seemed to like us.  We still had a couple of weeks to take him to the vet, get his paw looked after, see about required vaccinations, and explore what kind of paperwork we might need to bring Mali to Canada.

As we walked downhill, I started to think fondly about this possibility.  Mali eagerly walked alongside us, he was affectionate and mild-mannered.  He seemed to have some obedience training, didn’t bark loudly, and was even the right size for an apartment.  He seemed like a dream dog.

Increasingly, I thought – with regret – about my original suggestion to let him find his own way down – remorsefully thinking about how heartless and foolish that proposal now seemed.  Perhaps part of me had still been hankering for a hike at the time, but that now seemed like a strange notion when compared to the pleasant possibility of developing a relationship with Mali and caring for him.

Sarah spent the evening deburring Mali’s fur – I counted several dozen burrs, which made a small, but substantial pile.  His paw seemed to get better and he was limping less.  We fed him, walked him, and pet him.  He peacefully slept in the makeshift bed we made for him.  In the space of a few hours, he already felt like family.

I thought about the people we had asked, and how no one claimed a relationship with Mali.  One hiker had shrugged with resignation, “Yep, there are a lot of abandoned dogs around here.”  We knew that was true – a lot of dogs roamed the park.  Who would have abandoned this dog?  Had it been because of his busted paw?  Or had that happened after?  Maybe it was appropriate that he had found us and that we now planned to look after him.

As we got ready to leave the national park, we workshopped some ideas on how we might find his original caretakers.  My mom wondered about putting up posters near the entrance to the park, or in the commercial area of the nearest town (but without giving too much information away, lest the wrong people claim him).  But we didn’t have any materials for posters, and I was secretly glad… by now it felt like it was all but confirmed that Mali belonged with us.

On our way out of the park, we drove by the folks who rent out horses for guided horseback rides.  Despite my personal preference, I thought we might as well ask them if they knew anything about a missing dog – due diligence.  Among the stable-hands, one adult casually waved off the question: “I wouldn’t know anything about that,” he answered.  But the child next to him was far more attentive: “Yes, there’s a missing dog – white, with brown spots, and a blue collar.  He belongs to the shopkeeper across the road.  He lost him yesterday.”

Our hearts sank, the description was spot on.  And just like that, it was clear to us that Mali wouldn’t be coming with us.  Sarah and my mom brought Mali out of the car to meet the shopkeeper’s family.  He happily wagged his tail when he saw them.  His name was Bruno.

It turns out they had entrusted Bruno to a group of hikers.  At some point, a gang of stray dogs attacked them.  That’s how Bruno injured his paw, and the hikers fled in fear, losing track of him.

We sat with the bittersweet knowledge that Bruno/Mali wasn’t coming with us, though we also felt relief that he was where he belonged and that the family wouldn’t be missing out on their dog.

That’s when another unsettling question came up.  Sarah wondered: “Rod, did we just almost steal a dog?”

It kind of felt like it…  Now, from a legal perspective, actual theft would have required an active intent to separate the dog from where he belonged.  As far as we knew, we had been rescuing a dog with an injured paw, and no one to claim him.  So, no, strictly speaking, we had not almost stolen a dog.

But despite our intentions, the impact would have been the same – a family would have been deprived of their long-time companion.

In the end, what we did seemed like a net positive – we ended up actively reuniting Bruno with his family!

…or did we?

On the one hand, we did bring Bruno right to the shopkeeper’s place.  On the other hand, he might have gotten there on his own, a whole day earlier, had we not interfered at all.

I thought about the remorse I’d felt after suggesting that we let Mali (Bruno) hike down on his own.  The shopkeeper was just down the hiking trail.  What had seemed to me like a foolish and heartless suggestion on my part, may have actually been the wisest and most compassionate thing to do.  It might have spared the family a whole night of anguish about their missing dog, and Bruno wouldn’t have had to stay the night with a bunch of strangers – and nearly been taken to a foreign country.  Maybe doing nothing would have been the safest and most effective course of action.

On the other other hand – on the other paw – Bruno had a busted paw.  We didn’t know if he would have made it on his own, or been attacked by other dogs (and we did encounter other wild-roaming dogs on our way down, after all).

Even if he had made it back safely, we would never have known that… all we would have known is that we had let an injured dog out into the wild (albeit, one that seemed to know his way down the trail with confidence).  Would the most compassionate act really have been compassionate, if we didn’t actually know it was compassionate?

These are tricky questions.  One answer might be: (shrug)… I dunno!

This may seem like an odd takeaway.  What kind of moral direction is “(shrug) I dunno!”

But the reality of right action and best practice is sometimes like that.  When you don’t have the best information or the most complete information – which is… often – the best and wisest course of action might not be clear.  Sometimes, several seemingly-contradictory options might well be good enough.

But not knowing for sure doesn’t mean we abdicate responsibility.  Due diligence is usually a compass needle in the right direction, through winding paths, even if it’s not our immediate inclination.

I hadn’t been keen on asking the horseback-riding folks about a missing dog, potentially opening up even a remote possibility that we might not keep Mali with us.  But I still understood that doing so was a responsible thing to do.  If they knew the dog’s caretakers, as was indeed the case, then we’d had found the answer we were looking for (even if it wasn’t the answer we might have wanted).  Had they said no, then at least we tried.

My friends, navigating the moral compass can be tricky, especially when the trail twists and turns.  My friends, finding the right thing to do is a struggle amid the fog of uncertainty.  And still, my friends, that responsible search is our task, our call, and our covenant.

So may it be,
In Covenant,

Copyright © 2022 Rodrigo Emilio Solano-Quesnel

Hymn #203 All Creatures of the Earth and Sky
Words: Attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, 1182-1226, alt.
Music: From Ausserlesene Catholische Kirchengesang, 1623, adapt. and harm. by Ralph Vaughan Williams, 1872-1958, music used by perm. of Oxford University Press

Michael Tacy (4 September, 2021)

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