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My father-in-law, whose name was Joe, always wanted to have a watch dog to guard his business. He had a growing farm machinery business that was situated on the same property where his home was located. His thought was, to chase off would-be thieves that may attempt to steal used farm machinery and to protect his home from danger; he would have a ferocious dog chained to a doghouse that would bark loudly and viciously should anyone come onto the property at night.

Finally, he found the right canine. It was a white German Shepherd that was owned by one of his customers. He sold the man a piece of machinery and charged him a little less if he would throw in his dog. The deal was done and my father-in-law came home with one of the most vicious dogs I had ever seen. The dog’s name was Duchess.

The only person that could approach the dog was Joe. The rest of us stayed clear of Duchess. Whenever we had to feed the dog, we had to wait until we knew she was safe in her doghouse. Then we would sneak up, place the dog-dish just inside the maximum length of her chain and run. As soon as Duchess heard a noise she was on a beeline chasing the trespasser growling savagely with teeth bared. You had the feeling if the chain ever broke, you were lunch.

Everyone was afraid of Duchess. And that was exactly what my father-in-law wanted. It was pretty clear that the dog had been abused somewhere in her past, though no one knew exactly where that abuse had taken place, because the dog had been possessed by several owners. However, everyone in the family was warned to stay far away from Duchess. And no one argued. We were all deathly afraid of her.

One year we were home from seminary on a holiday when other members of the family were there as well. Our three year old son was outside playing with his cousin, also three years old. Though they had been strictly warned to stay away from Duchess, we were watching them like a hawk to be sure they didn’t stray too close.

I don’t remember what it was that distracted us from watching them for a few moments, but when we turned around they were nowhere to be found. We looked everywhere. Then we enlisted the help of everyone inside the house. In a few minutes all those that were on the farmstead were looking everywhere for our two three year old sons. And it was fast approaching the place of panic.

We looked in the front of the house, in the barn, under the machinery, under the cars, on the road, in the ditch, under the bushes; all the time shouting their names. But they were nowhere to be found. None of us thought to look in the doghouse because if they had gone there Duchess would have violently and loudly torn them limb from limb. We would have certainly heard the commotion of the canine massacre.

However, on a hunch, because there was nowhere else to look, I grabbed a baseball bat, delicately tip-toed up to the doghouse and peered in. And there snuggled inside were two three year old little boys, petting and playing with Duchess while the dog lay content in a ball.

In a panic I coaxed my son and his cousin out of the house, fearing that Duchess would come to her senses and begin the bloodbath, or attack me. But nothing of the kind happened. The boys stumbled out of the house, tripping over and falling on Duchess; but the dog never uttered a growl, or a bark, at the boys or at me. And following the boys out of the house was Duchess, just as calm as could be. When I turned around there were three or four family members standing just outside of maximum chain length, motioning for me to get the boys out of dog range as soon as possible.

But Duchess never uttered a growl, not that day or any day after that. From then on everyone could approach Duchess to feed her, pet her and even play with her. As a watchdog, Duchess was ruined. She never barked again, even when strangers entered the property.

The whole incident unveiled a truth to me that I think I’ve always known. But I hadn’t seen it illustrated so vividly. People, like dogs, long for love. Many who we think to be mean, un-loveable, and incapable of loving: are probably just love-deprived. Duchess was no doubt protecting her territory from humans whom she assumed represented danger. She too, along with abuse she received, had been love-deprived. Once she was truly loved by two innocent children, the hate and fear vanished.

Who in your life do you think might be changed by being truly loved? Might you have it in you to love them? “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Those who do not love, do not know God for God is love.” I John 4:7,8

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