They are no saints, but I think dogs can do a respectable job nudging us closer to God.

In perhaps an aspirational move, my Irish family’s first pup, Paddy, was named after a saint. He was a terribly trained, notoriously smelly and outrageously lovable golden retriever. Paddy seemed quite attuned to human emotions, and I recall that during my bouts of teenage gloom he’d rest his malodorous head on my knee. It always helped and was a reminder that perfection is not a prerequisite to loving well.

My first dog as an adult pet-owner was Lucy, whose dislike of large dogs (a kind of canine PTSD from a dog park kerfuffle) means she growls at friendly big dogs and their humans. She’s forced me to grow in humility.

Our second rescue dog, Rocket, has gotten along decently with Lucy for the past four years, but recently they fulfilled my dream and snuggled together for the first time. It was a good reminder that unexpected changes are always a possibility.

Because of Rocket I’ve become more patient. When he emits woofs with abandon demanding breakfast, I can either succumb to the pre-coffee angst or dig deeper.

And when I crack from the barking and raise my voice at him, I recognize he exposes my brokenness but also seems not to mind. That’s given me an opportunity to marvel at the astounding fact that we are worthy of love, flaws and all, just as we are — even as we seek growth.

And for that, I’m doggone grateful.