The Divinity of Dogs
Jennifer Skiff, Allen & Unwin
Sometimes a book arrives that is a deep blessing. Jennifer Skiff’s book is indeed a blessing, and deserves to be read by animal lovers and by non-animal lovers (poor people!) as well.
The author is an award-winning television producer, journalist and writer of God Stories. She is also a trustee of the Dog’s Refuge Home in Perth.
Through stories contributed by people about the miracles of their dogs, plus a prelude to each chapter about Jennifer’s own dogs during significant times in her life, we read about, and possibly experience, embodied love.
During a telephone interview I asked Jennifer why she had written the book.
“It was time to write it,” she said, “to set the record straight. We have been conditioned by scientists, told that animals don’t have feelings, to justify their experimentation on animals. But we know better.
“This book started out as a love story for dogs but it became a lesson for humanity; we are not alone on our journey — it is shared.
“Dogs help us to realise that we are simply human. All of us have trials. Dogs are a gift to help us through those trials. To help us be better human beings.”
Jennifer’s goal, with this book and with her wider work in animal welfare circles, is to enable people to feel more compassion and empathy, not only towards animals but also towards humans.
“Love begets love,” she said. “One of my challenges is to help shift the thinking of those who think a dog is ‘just a dog’ and should stay outside without proper care or training. I challenge them to bring the dog inside and allow it to work its magic by bringing joy and love into their life.
“If the dog is outside because they don’t have time to train the dog or don’t want the dog, then take the dog to a no-kill shelter where the dog will get a chance to be part of a home/family who wants him. If you can’t handle a dog, don’t let either yourselves, or the dog, suffer.”
Jennifer’s goals include ending the cruel practice of factory farming dogs in what is known as puppy mills.
“Two-hundred thousand healthy dogs are euthanised in Australia every year. We need legislation against factory farming dogs that also promotes responsible breeding in order to break the endless, deadly cycle.
“I urge people to react not only when they see disturbing pictures of the needless deaths of these dogs, but to react by taking action. Talk to your community leaders and state leaders. Join the campaigns like Oscar’s Law here in Australia, which is working to end the practice.”
Jennifer’s work now is largely about promoting the book and its message. She is also a magazine columnist, telling more stories about animals, for the Canadian Pets Magazine.
And she has a new book deal: “The next book will be a spiritual inspirational memoir. It’s still in its gestation period, so it’s too early to say too much about it.
“Aside from my writing, I will devote the next part of my life to ending the pet overpopulation in the world by working on animal welfare legislation and focusing on sterilisation. By sterilising responsibly, we save countless dogs and cats the needless suffering that goes with being homeless, including abuse and starvation.”
As a trustee of the Dog’s Refuge Home in Perth, Jennifer knows firsthand about the conditions of shelters and many of the stories of the dogs there.
“It’s painful when people tell me they can’t go to a shelter because they just can’t look at the animals behind the cages. Saving a life is an extremely rewarding experience. Both of my dogs have been thrown-away by someone else. As far as I’m concerned, I found two diamond rings at my shelter!”
While writing the book, Jennifer said she shed a lot of tears and wondered if the stories would have the same effect on her readers. (The answer is an unequivocal “Yes.”)
“I don’t limit compassion,” she said. “We bond with animals. They have souls. We know what we know. This is a fantastic time in the world; we are opening our hearts and our minds. We are thinking for ourselves, rather than thinking what we have been told in the past (such as ‘Dogs live outside.’
“Many of us know in our hearts that animals have souls.”
Jennifer sees the positive; she believes there is a shift in thinking, she has seen this change during her own lifetime. There is a movement towards compassion and that is the direction the world is taking.
I asked Jennifer if she had received negative feedback from churches or clergy. She paused. “Well, my friend Lewis Regenstein, Director of the Interfaith Council of Protection of Animals and Nature, asked two rabbis for a quote to promote my book. They were offended by the title and wanted me to change it.
“For me, that wasn’t an option. I simply responded that they didn’t understand the divinity of dogs. Other than that, no negative feedback. I have had a lot of feedback from people who have thanked me for acknowledging, for them, that a dog has a soul. And many ministers have written to tell me that they’re reading the stories in The Divinity of Dogs to their congregations.”
At the close of the book, we read of the deaths of her two dogs, Couscous and Chick Pea. Now she has two new rescue dogs, Honey, a Cavalier/Maltese (11 years old), with one working eye, who is lovely and sweet and, three months ago, the addition of a Shih Tzu/Maltese, Sunny. Sunny was one and a half years old, had never been in a house, and was badly matted and neglected.
Finally he has been house trained and loves his new home with Jennifer and husband Jon.
Despite the happiness, Jennifer admits to having waves of debilitating grief. “There are few in this life who have loved me unconditionally. I miss my champions who have passed.”
In May The Divinity of Dogs will be published in Italy, in Italian, and later in Brazil, in Portuguese.
This book needs to be read with tissues next to you, and preferably with a four-legged friend on your lap or by your feet. The contributors’ stories, which highlight the spiritual gifts of love, comfort, intuition, healing, gratitude, loyalty, compassion and forgiveness, will resonate long after the pages of the book are closed — for your heart will remain open.
One of my favourites, from Camille Boisvert, contains these words: ‘The ability to love may be easily extinguished by the harshness of the world. Like overused elastic, a hardened heart seems impossible to flex and reshape ever again. No gesture of kindness or promise of sincerity can be trusted by an injured soul … The secret magic entrusted to dogs is that they will show you how to love … you will learn to love the world around you — and you must not care if it loves you back.”
Be warned: like prayer (don’t pray unless you are prepared to change), don’t have a dog unless you are willing to be a better human being because of the dog’s unconditional love for you.
To close with words from Jennifer: “We need to think outside the box and have understanding for all. Happy joy every day. Compassionate heart.”
Of course, this book is no surprise to me; after all “dog” is “God” backwards. Dogs model God’s unconditional love.
This book is a love story, encompassing the animal, the human, and the divine.
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