If my new pound puppy, Toby, were able to express his feelings about cats, he'd likely tell you an interesting tale of meeting his first cat.
The meeting took place this month as he and I were out jogging. Toby is eight months old and 22 pounds. His mixed ancestry gives him the long hair of the Lhasa Apso and the excitable temperament of the Jack Russell.
It was a fine fall morning as we made our way onto the creek-side jogging trail. Cloud shadows moved alongside us, hinting at the first rain of the season. The fallen leaves filled the dry creek bed with a colorful crunchy carpet that tempted me off our usual trail and onto the crackling leaves to see what dormant creature we might stir up.
Suddenly, ahead of us, we spotted a shorthaired gray-and-white cat lurking among the trees. With his shoulders hunched and his body hugging the ground like his feline ancestors, he appeared to be hunting mice.
Toby's leash went taut and his curiosity propelled us on a trajectory toward the cat. Fortunately, I was able to pull him up short of the "target" even as she arched her back, giving out a soft, but discouraging scowl.
Toby responded hesitantly to the hissing by showing that his only desire was for a whiff, an acquainting sniff.
Amazingly, the kitty stood her ground, giving tacit agreement to Toby's inspection. Still, she occasionally stepped out of range as if disparaging the IQ of any animal that allows itself to be leashed.
For a few minutes, we all stood together in peace while I looked for the telltale signs I was in a Disney movie. Would birds settle on my shoulder while deer rubbed noses and squirrels sang on their hind legs?
Eventually, Toby gave a few barks to remind me that this Kodak moment wouldn't last and we should continue our run. We didn't get far before we realized the cat was following us, scampering amid the trees in our direction.
Toby anchored his feet, demonstrating his intolerance for a feline stalker, and once again, we allowed the cat to approach. Again, God's creatures hissed and sniffed, pawed and barked. Passersby incredulously asked: "Is this your cat? Does she jog with you two?"
We repeated our start/stop ritual four times until, finally, we shook our tail and jogged on.
Still, for the remainder of the jog, I kept thinking about how people describe such odd occurrences as a sign from God.
Was this such a sign? If so, would hundreds of people come to visit us like those who visit the Jesus-faced taco shells?
I'm a spiritual writer. Doesn't God have to give me a weekly spiritual message?
Well, yes and no. While this sort of thing shouldn't be interpreted as a message from God on a private line, there's room to hear a divine message in everything we see.
On this day, I was reminded that there are many miracles of daily life that contain wonder and awe. Yet they are often missed when sprinting down the path of least resistance, that neat path we've memorized and analyzed. Soon, the miracles lose their power to mesmerize.
True, we still can find them on our daily path, but I've always found that they are best discovered on alternate routes.
If you were to ask me whether this "epiphany" has improved the way I feel about cats, I'd reluctantly say "a little." But still, at the end of the day, I'd guess that if Jesus ever had a pet, it wasn't a cat.
Norris Burkes is a syndicated columnist, speaker and author of "No Small Miracles." He also serves as an Air National Guard chaplain. You can call him at (321) 549-2500, e-mail him at Norris@thechaplain.net or visit his website at www.thechaplain.net