He never brought the ball back (story of Rudy)

Text and photographs by Claudio Maria Lerario

Rudy was the dog I had the pleasure of spending the past years with. A few weeks ago we had to say goodbye far too early, due to an aggressive cancer that had advanced nearly symptomless until just days prior to his death. He was 12 years old.

When he was only 60 days old he was thrown in a garbage can. Just before ending up in the jaws of the trash compactor truck someone heard his crying and saved him. We found him at the public kennel and we welcomed him into our family.

Since then Rudy has been the babysitter of my children, the psychologist who all turned in times of sadness, the guardian of the house, the terror of the neighborhood cats. And in recent years he has also been the caregiver of my elderly mother.

Every time I returned from my reportages around the world he was always ready to celebrate, never complaining for the long moments of my absence. He just wagged the tail and everything was ok: he has always been a tireless tail wagger… He has been wagging his tail until the last moment when he was lying down and waiting to die on his favorite rug.

Rudy was a free dog. He hated leashes and muzzles. His behavior was not exactly that of a good and obedient trained dog. Actually, he never brought back a fetched piece of wood or a ball. No way! But he was always true to his nature and he never betrayed anyone.

Rudy’s story began in a garbage can. Then it has become a great, little story of resilience, change, and beauty.

He deserved a great finale. I buried him  —  wrapped in a traditional burial cloth that I brought from my last journey in Ethiopia  —  in a forest, near Gubbio, along one of the paths traveled by Saint Francis of Assisi, patron saint of animals and environment.

In that forest St. Francis met the wolf…

Perhaps this is the most famous story of St. Francis. It tells that while Francis was staying in that town (Gubbio) he learned of a wolf so ravenous that it was not only killing and eating animals, but people, too.

The people took up arms and went in the forest after it, but those who encountered the wolf perished at its sharp teeth. Villagers became afraid to leave the city walls. Francis had pity on the people and decided to go out and meet the wolf.

He was desperately warned by the people, but he insisted that God would take care of him. A brave friar and several peasants accompanied Francis outside the city gate. But soon the peasants lost heart and said they would go no farther.

Francis and his companion began to walk on. Suddenly the wolf, jaws agape, charged out of the woods at the couple. Francis made the Sign of the Cross toward it. The power of God caused the wolf to slow down and to close its mouth. Then Francis called out to the creature: “Come to me, Brother Wolf. In the name of Christ, I order you not to hurt anyone.”

At that moment the wolf lowered its head and lay down at St. Francis’ feet, meek as a lamb. Francis explained to the wolf that he had been terrorizing the people, killing not only animals, but humans who are made in the image of God.

“Brother Wolf,” said Francis, “I want to make peace between you and the people of Gubbio. They will harm you no more and you must no longer harm them. All past crimes are to be forgiven.”

The wolf showed its assent by moving its body and nodding its head. Then to the absolute surprise of the gathering crowd, Francis asked the wolf to make a pledge. As Francis extended his hand to receive the pledge, so the wolf extended its front paw and placed it into the saint’s hand.

Then Francis commanded the wolf to follow him into town to make a peace pact with the townspeople. The wolf meekly followed St. Francis. By the time they got to the town square, everyone was there to witness the miracle.

With the wolf at his side, Francis gave the town a sermon on the wondrous and fearful love of God, calling them to repent from all their sins. Then he offered the townspeople peace, on behalf of the wolf. The townspeople promised in a loud voice to feed the wolf.

Then Francis asked the wolf if he would live in peace under those terms. He bowed his head and twisted his body in a way that convinced everyone he accepted the pact. Then once again the wolf placed its paw in Francis’ hand as a sign of the pact.

From that day on the people kept the pact they had made. The wolf lived for two years among the townspeople, going from door to door for food. It hurt no one and no one hurt it. Even the dogs did not bark at it.

When the wolf finally died of old age, the people of Gubbio were sad. The wolf’s peaceful ways had been a living reminder to them of the wonders, patience, virtues and holiness of Francis and his love for all of God’s creation.

St. Francis cared for the poor and sick, he preached sermons to animals, and praised all creatures as brothers and sisters under God. Rudy would have liked him.