But this morning, as I was driving down Dillon Road—that familiar route I used to take when I would spend weeks at a time in Joshua Tree—I came to a screeching halt when I saw the sign.
And, finding myself uncharacteristically ahead of schedule, I made a U-turn to go check it out.
I'd made an unenviable day trip to the Palm Springs area for Modernism Week (photos forthcoming), but the thing that I couldn't get out of my mind upon my return was the story of St. Francis of Assisi, patron saint of animals.
He's often depicted holding a bird in his hand, but the story goes that flocks of birds would gather around the Roman Catholic friar (and founder of the Franciscan order) as he would preach. Supposedly, a large flock of singing larks descended at the moment of his death in the year 1226.
To Francis, all animals were God's creatures—in fact, our brothers and sisters under God, all members of a single family. And, therefore, we should treat them accordingly.
That is, do unto animals as you would have anyone do unto you.
It was a strange—and memorable—visit to this pet cemetery in Desert Hot Springs, because shortly after I arrived and began to explore the headstones, two barking black labradors came lumbering towards me.
They could easily have been in attack mode—chasing away a trespasser—but oddly, given my childhood fear of dogs, I wasn't afraid.
I was happy to see them and called out "Hi babies!" as I put my hands out for them to sniff (and, ultimately, taste).
Suddenly, this was a very different visit to a pet cemetery—one with live (and boisterous) animals...
...who were prancing on the anachronistically green grass.
According to legend, St. Francis of Assisi once tamed a wild wolf...
...but of course these dogs turned out to be not too ferocious.
And while one of them was called back home, the other took a liking to me.
I stared deeply into her eyes, as I held her face in my hands.
I seemed to understand something about her that I can't articulate. It was as though she had not been sent to me—but that I had been sent to her.
I stroked her forehead and told her everything was OK.
I told her that I loved her...
...and that she was a good girl.
All those things, she seemed to need to hear.
A rooster crowed, but she didn't go home.
A smaller dog came up yapping to fetch her, but she didn't follow him.
Instead, she pressed against my legs and wouldn't leave my side. I kept asking her, "What are you protecting me from?" but she wouldn't answer.
When the time came for me to go, she followed me to my car, sniffing the tires and examining the door handles and the windows. I don't know whether she was looking for a way in, or inspecting it for safety.
I got behind the wheel and turned the car on, at which point she formed a blockade in front of it, and then encircled it, ending up at the passenger side window looking at me with her sad eyes. But then the realization came, and she climbed up on the bank at the cemetery entrance, and saw me off.
“Not to hurt our humble brethren is our first duty to them, but to stop there is not enough.
We have a higher mission -- to be of service to them wherever they require it.”
— St. Francis of Assisi
For more on Pet Haven and its celebrity inhabitants, click here.
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