Xena, who was an approximately 10 year-old Malamute/Husky mix, came to us in September of 2020 after she was abandoned, rescued, and spent two months in a loving foster care home. Xena’s health was poor: her teeth were in bad condition, making it painful for her to eat kibble (she was the first dog to whom I fed canned dog food); her hips were painful, often making it difficult for her to walk; she was deaf; eye infections made it difficult for her to see; and despite a great diet in foster care, she remained quite emaciated. It was also clear from her behavior – she often kept her distance to avoid human contact and initially tried to sleep outside, even though she had clearly once been an indoor dog — that she had lived a lifetime of abuse and neglect.
Neglect and abuse, however, do not define who Xena was. In Laudato Si, his encyclical on care for our common home, Pope Francis writes that God has given all creatures a unique voice, one which we have no right to silence and one which we ignore only at great cost to ourselves. Xena’s voice was a particularly loud one. This was not because she howled or made other noises; she was almost entirely silent. Instead, Xena spoke through her behavior. Despite her abuse, she was meek, quiet, unassuming, and undemanding. But hers was not a meekness borne out of weakness or avoidance. Xena had an enormous inner strength and an ability to carve out for herself the space she needed to preserve her identity. That was expressed by her appropriating the family room as her spot for morning and afternoon naps, and her obvious annoyance when her private space was violated.
It was also clear that, despite all the hardship and suffering she had experienced throughout her life, Xena continued to hope for a better future; she longed for a home where she would be accepted and loved. After her arrival, she worked extremely hard to adapt to the rules and the rhythm of our household so that she could be a reliable and trustworthy pack member. In fact, the ease of her adaptation is almost shocking in view of her deafness. Her hope was also expressed in her radiant smile, a smile that would literally fill a room. We always saw it as she watched me prepare her breakfast and dinner, as she watched me get out of the car when I returned home from an outing (our male Mal mix, Yuma, alerted her to my arrivals), and above all during twice-daily pill time, which was Xena’s favorite time of the day.
Xena passed away on the evening of Thursday, March 4, after a five-week battle against liver cancer. Unlike many animals and people, her hope was realized, and she found the love, the safety, and the acceptance that she sought. She passed away very peacefully, and now her suffering is at an end. But Xena lives on through her loud voice: her meekness in the face of hardship and her determination to preserve her dignity despite her circumstances serve as a model that can instruct and inform us. My own hope is that I can grow in a meekness that will come close to matching Xena’s own.