A dog who prays, no really

My husband is a cat person, which means that he grumbles whenever the dogs in our neighborhood howl over every siren or bark at every squirrel. So when we watched the video of a dog who says grace, I expected him to barf or maybe roll his eyes. Nope, the video generated a good chuckle before we read the rest of the story on CNN.

We could all whine about how a story about a dog praying doesn’t deserve 1,300 words, how the piece could have been organized better, maybe it could have included fewer cliches, but let’s look at the story’s good parts for a minute. Instead of just posting a video to generate clicks, CNN actually found a touching story behind Steven Boyd and his prayerful dog.

What began as a post on Boyd’s Facebook page was passed on and shared. It’s popped up all over YouTube, appeared on numerous other sites, and it even got play on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.”

But the story behind Djaingo the praying dog is deeper than it is cute.

Boyd found his way to the dog just when they needed each other most.

The man was sick – had been for more than a year and a half – when he strolled into an animal shelter looking for a temporary escape. It was September 10, 2003, the day before the second anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and the memories of that day weighed heavily on him.

For 12 years, Boyd says, he served in the U.S. Army. He says he was, among other things, a sniper, a paratrooper and, subsequently, a counter narcotics operator. He’d been fearless professionally and personally. He’d jumped out of planes, rappelled down cliffs and mountain biked his way across dangerous terrains.

Now, though, he was losing everything. The hospitalizations kept happening. His career was shot. The relationship with the woman he thought he’d marry had ended. The medical questions loomed large. He was dying.

Yes, Boyd found the dog, but it wasn’t pure bliss after that.

After several days of vomiting four years ago, he thought he’d end it all. He’d had a friend who years ago had committed suicide by drinking Clorox, and from the bathtub’s floor, where he was curled up, Boyd eyed the nearby bleach bottle. With the cap off, he prepared to drink.

“I heard it as distinctive as I hear your voice right now,” Boyd, his own voice shaking, says by phone to CNN. “I heard, ‘Don’t do this.’ It was my father God, and I broke down. I get teary-eyed now talking about it.”

He’d grown up in a Christian home, “a proverbial ‘Leave It to Beaver’ family,” he says. His dad had been the deacon of their church. His mother is a Sunday school and Bible study teacher. And though Boyd always considered himself Christian, up until that moment he realized he’d been living the Christian life, as an adult, on his own terms.

I don’t want to be Debbie Downer, but maybe I’d like to know what kind of church that CNN says he’s “involved in” and attends Bible studies. Back to the dog, he created the video as a Christmas gift to his mother.

The response has overwhelmed Boyd. He’s received more than 5,000 messages from around the globe – including Australia, Russia, Thailand. The friend requests on Facebook have poured in by the hundreds. Djaingo, now with his own Facebook page, is racking up new friends, too.

Boyd has gotten marriage proposals. A grandmother who is going through chemotherapy and lives alone says she watches the video every morning to help her face a new day. A mother whose son has lost faith is hoping that by teaching the dog to pray, her son will feel the connection again, too. Pastors are using the video in sermons.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve enjoyed this story. Yes, there are much more important news stories happening in the world. But it works for me on a Friday where people are unwinding from the week.

Besides, let’s consider the story’s fluffy competition. Last I checked, the other headlines at cnn.com were: “Tattooed man squirts ink into his eyeballs,” “HAPPY CAPS LOCK DAY” and “Cheerleader out after Facebook pic.”

So if you’re going to do a heart-warming story for the weekend, might as well include a dog, military wounds and prayer. Animals, health, and religion create a pretty good combination.

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  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    If he prays–does he qualify to go to Communion in that Canadian church that gave Communion to a dog???

  • Sarah Pulliam Bailey

    Ha. Good question. I assume you’re referring to this story: http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/article/838717–church-sparks-controversy-after-dog-given-communion

    Though this guy lives in Austin. I doubt he’ll make it up to that church anytime soon.

  • Jerry

    Thanks for featuring this story. I’m hungry for simple stories of how God is acting in people’s lives and this is a beautiful example.

    Yes, there are much more important news stories

    From a worldly perspective, those three are more important. But perhaps stories that inspire people and stories that give people hope are really more important in the long term. Could it be that this stories, the story about how Muslims saved 2000 Jews during World War II, http://www.ksdk.com/news/local/story.aspx?storyid=222601&catid=3 and stories about how love at the animal level turns predators into protectors such as http://www.naturescornermagazine.com/lion_lamb.html are more important from a more divine perspective?

  • Sarah Pulliam Bailey

    Jerry, I think you could make the case that those stories were not just important from a worldly perspective. I sympathize with reporters who complain that their puppy stories get ready more than their “the next leader of China” stories. From a news perspective, the dog story is not really that important. From a storytelling perspective, it’s a nice way to dig deeper in what appeared to be a light story for the hits. I think CNN handled it fairly well on the blog. If it had been the lead breaking story on the website, I might pause for concern. Thanks for these additional story links.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    Deacon:

    He certainly can attend the Gaia Mass every fall at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine (Episcopal) in NYC.

    Or, if the witty UMC bishop is right, this trend could be the key to a major story: The recovery of liberal Mainline Protestantism, through the evangelism of canines (instead of converts and children). This was the subject of his famous satire: “My Dog The Methodist.”

    See: http://www.google.com/search?q=%22My+Dog+The+Methodist%22&hl=en

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    matt–Actually many Catholic parishes have a blessing of the animals on or around the feast of St. Francis of Assisi. I’m not sure what feast in the Christian calendar Gaia is.
    And Jerry–the reason the Catholic(and Orthodox Churches) recognize and canonize people as saints is to provide–as you wrote– “stories that inspire people and stories that inspire hope…”
    The 20th century seems to have provided many such people. My oldest son’s confirmation name is “Maximillian” after the priest who stepped forward at Auschwitz to take the place of a man who was to be executed and who had a wife and family.
    The Orthodox Churches are doing the research to be able to recognize the thousands of heroic saints who died or risked their lives for others and their Faith under the decades of atheistic Communist tyranny.

  • Lynn

    It does seem odd to omit what denomination Mr. Boyd belongs to. Perhaps the reporter thought that doing so might limit the appeal of the story?

    I can’t confirm this from personal experience, but one blogger, commenting on the CNN article, had this observation about Mr. Boyd:

    (The prayer that the owner recited, the cadence of it along with the accent definitely told me that this guy was Southern Baptist and from Texas. There was no doubt about that!)
    http://jbw53191.blogspot.com/2010/10/story-of-djaingo-praying-dog.html

  • jcalvin

    Swiss cheese journalism: Omissions even more significant than the flavor of Mr. Boyd’s faith: Did the reporter confirm his military service and the claims of his exploits? Did the reporter confirm Mr. Boyd’s medical history? His voice shook on the telephone as he told his story — and that proves what? That he is a good actor. Did the reporter actually visit Mr. Boyd and personally observe the dog in prayer?

  • Jenny

    jcalvin, despite the fact that some people lie, it doesn’t mean all are guilty of the same. Given the fact that this man isn’t angling for money, the video gained attention because it was online, and CNN most likely contacted him to do a human interest story, I don’t believe this man needs to be grilled like a politician.

  • Lamaur

    Confirming military service is valuable, though even if the reporter did that, I don’t think it’s that necessary to weave the confirmation into this narrative. For the medical history, realistically how many doctors would have had to been reached for this story, for which Boyd would have had to give permission to them to speak about his various conditions? And some of those were military doctors, so that could well be a double hurdle.

    Otherwise, the article does have a second source (his mother), who confirms he’s been ill and is a military veteran.

  • Sarah Pulliam Bailey

    Well said, Lamaur. I think it’s appropriate to be a bit skeptical and to do checks, but at some point, you have to move on to your next story.


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