When I was a boy, I had a dog named Prince. He was a funny-looking critter. Half greyhound and half St. Bernard, he wasn’t just big—he was huge! He had one brown eye and one white eye; the epicanthic fold on his white eye was a brilliant pink. People who had never seen him before invariably did a double-take and then made some comment such as, “He’s so ugly he’s cute” or, “Does he always look like he has the pink eye?”
In five months Prince was the best-trained dog my neighbors had ever seen. He could heel, stay, sit, lie down, play dead, fetch, speak, and jump over sticks and through hoops. He didn’t just do the stunts, he did them with such a flare, with so much joy, that it was a delight to watch. He clearly loved the opportunity to display his love and adoration for me by responding instantly and totally to my every command. I often held a “circus” for the neighborhood kids to watch me put Prince through his repertoire.
My dad was a firm believer that dogs should never inhabit the same space as humans. They must stay outdoors at all times and in all seasons. Somewhere I had heard about a boy whose dog slept on the foot of his bed, and I wanted Prince to sleep on my bed. My dad compromised a bit and agreed that Prince could come in at night and sleep on the back porch. I decided that if I couldn’t bring Prince to my bed, I would take my bed to Prince. I moved my bed to the back porch. When the temperatures got down below zero in the winter, my dad thought I would give it up and move my bed back inside. Instead I would bring Prince under the covers with me, and we would snuggle and keep each other warm.
I could tell you dozens more anecdotes to illustrate the deep two-way love that developed between Prince and me, but I will let one more suffice. Prince had an incredible sense of time. My school was just across the street from our house, and I always came home for lunch. Every day Prince would meet me at the schoolhouse door at lunch time and again when school was out at 3:00, and we would romp home together. I never had the problems some kids experience from older bullies making their lives miserable on the way home from school. Prince would have torn them to pieces, and they knew it.
Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving in 1935, when I came out of the schoolhouse door, Prince was not there waiting for me. First I was disappointed, then alarmed. When I got home and he wasn’t there, either, I was devastated. I went around the neighborhood whistling and calling for him. Some of the other neighborhood kids helped me hunt. When it got dark, my mom said I had to come in for supper. I was so upset I could hardly eat.
Just as supper was ending I heard Prince whimper out back. I rushed to his side, my dad right behind me. Prince’s hind legs seemed to be paralyzed. He was dragging himself through the dirt with his front legs. “Don’t get too close. He might bite you. He’s been poisoned,” my dad said.
Prince went into convulsions, twisting in pain and agony. I longed to hold him in my arms, to tell him how sorry I was, to show him one more time how much I loved him, but Dad said I mustn’t. Then he was still. I ran to my bed on the back porch and cried my heart out.
The next morning we held a funeral service, and then we buried him. I was grateful that I didn’t have to return to school until Monday. By that time I had begun to get my emotions under control so that I didn’t burst out crying every time I thought about him.
Later I heard a rumor that a sheep farmer had poisoned Prince because he thought Prince was the dog who killed one of his sheep a few days prior. Possibly he was right, but I doubt it. Prince was never gone from home long, and never came home bloody.
What if I could have been present when Prince saw the poisoned food and started to eat it. What if I had said, “Prince, don’t eat that. It has poison in it.”
What if Prince could talk and tell me what he was thinking? “Why not, Master? Just look at all that nice, wholesome, fresh food. Why, there is hardly any poison there at all. There is a hundred times more good, wholesome meat than there is poison.”
I frequently hear people offering that kind of logic to justify their choice in reading material, in TV programs, in movies, even in the schools they choose to attend. First John 1:5 says, “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.” Bible reading, good preaching, good Bible teaching—these things will not poison your mind. You can’t say that, however, about a multitude of other things. Every book, article, story, movie, and TV program has a theme, an essence, or you might call it a spirit. Some of these come straight from the pits of hell. Like the sheep farmer who wrapped his poison in good food, Satan always wraps his poison in something pleasant, interesting, humorous, attractive, or entertaining. John tells us that we should try (test) the spirits to see whether they are of God (1 John 4:1). If they come from God they are healthful; if not, they very well might contain that little dab of poison. If you love them, you wouldn’t poison your dog, or your family, or yourself.
Here is another “what if.” What if Prince had somehow conducted himself in such a way that the sheep farmer would never think that he was a sheep killer? The sheep farmer would have taken his poison elsewhere, wouldn’t he? Maybe that’s why the apostle Paul told us, “Abstain from all appearance of evil” (1 Thess 5:22).
At the time of original publication, Frank Hall was a freelance writer living in Greenville, South Carolina.
(Originally published in FrontLine • January/February 2002. Click here to subscribe to the magazine.)