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HomeAdult Education, Church Stories, Kenilworth Union ChurchGarden Side Chat with Bill Evertsberg—July 8

Garden Side Chat with Bill Evertsberg—July 8

Written by: Julia Smolucha

Bill shares the story of Finn, the lost Bernese Mountain Dog, who taught us humans a lesson of hope, solidarity, and compassion.

Bernese Mountain Dog

Hi friends, my name is Bill Evertsberg and I’m one of the ministers at Kenilworth Union Church, and this is Doogie, my assistant minister. And Doogie has invited one of his friends over for a playdate today.

This is Bear. Bear is Bernese Mountain Dog and belongs to Dirk and Caroline Degenaars from our church, you know the Degenaars. And Bear is here to help me tell a story about a Bernese Mountain Dog in Washington, D.C. This is my daughter Taylor, by the way, who just moved to Chicago from Washington, D.C.

And this story happened in Washington, D.C. in early May. This story was told by a reporter named Ellen McCarthy in the Washington Post on June 23, and this is Day 116 of my personal quarantine. And in those 116 days, this is my all-time favorite story. This is about Finn the Bernese Mountain Dog. Finn is the same kind of dog that Bear is, I wish he’d stay in this frame so he could help me tell the story, but at least you got to meet Bear.

So, the story of Finn the Mountain Dog begins three years ago when Finn ends up in an animal shelter at the age of 8 weeks. He was abandoned by his first owner. So the animal shelter called a Washington resident named Debi Blaney because Debi’s Bernese Mountain Dog had recently died. And Debi was happy to adopt Finn, even though if we’re honest about it, Finn the Bernese Mountain Dog had some issues.

Finn was both shy and needy which is not a great combination for a giant dog like this. And so he was shy, he didn’t trust strangers, he would never let you come close to him if he didn’t know who you were, but if you lived in his house, if he trusted you, he was a little bit clingy.

And so if two people in Finn’s house were hugging, Finn would try to wedge himself between them so that he could get in on some of that action.

And so on May 3 earlier this year, it was a Sunday, Debi took Finn for a walk in the woods in her Washington neighborhood. And he was usually trustworthy, she usually let him off the leash, but when she did she looked away for just a second and suddenly, Finn was just gone. No sign of Finn. She called his name for hours until the wind got too loud for her to be heard by Finn, and then Sunday evening Debi went home, and she got busy.

She made hundreds of posters that she plastered every tree and telephone pole in the neighborhood with, she got on Facebook, and Twitter, and Instagram, she visited the local neighborhood website, she emailed her friends and her neighbors.

So on Monday morning, twenty people showed up to look for this lost dog. They looked for hours, but they had no sign of Finn.

One of the guys who showed up to look for Finn was David Magee. David Magee taught second grade at the Horace Mann Elementary School in Washington and had 22 second graders. They called themselves the Woodpeckers. And so this is May 3 earlier this year, of course all of those students are going to school on Zoom, and Mr. Magee sends them an email saying “Woodpeckers, I could really use your help with something.”

And so if you had taken a walk in those woods in that Washington neighborhood the first week in May earlier this year, you would have seen several seven year-olds walking around, scouring the woods for this lost dog with a leash in one hand and dog biscuits in the other. Every one of those 22 second graders wanted to be the hero that found this lost dog.

So on Monday, 20 people show up to look for Finn. On Tuesday, 40 people show up to look for Finn. Still no luck.

Debi Blaney is a wreck. She’s not eating or sleeping, she’s worried that Finn was kidnapped or maybe fell into a deep hole somewhere and couldn’t get out.

So Tuesday there are 40 people. It doesn’t work. On Wednesday, they add a search-and-rescue dog and they teach this dog Finn’s scent. Still no luck.

So on Thursday they add a professional—get this—a professional lost dog finder. I didn’t even know such people existed. So he sets up a motion detector in the woods in that neighborhood and he sets up a trap cage. This is Thursday. Still no Finn.

Debi Blaney is still a wreck. Still beside herself. Still not eating and sleeping. And so finally on Saturday, the sixth day, Debi Blaney’s phone vibrates and it’s a text from a total stranger. “Is this your dog?” reads the text. And attached is a blurry photo of an animal. Debi races to where the woman says the photo was taken. Still, no Finn.

And then finally on the seventh day, on Sunday, Mother’s Day, another total stranger contacts Debi and says “I’ve seen your dog.” And Debi races over to where this woman is and sure enough, there’s Finn.

He’s dirty and hungry and tired, his fur is matted with burrs and twigs, but that doesn’t dampen the reunion between Debi Blaney and Finn. “Hi Finn-Finn,” she says.

David Magee, that second grade teacher, says “it was a great lesson in hope for my little kids.”

But not only hope, right? A lesson in solidarity and compassion. Because all of these peoples—friends, strangers, neighbors, second graders, professionals—all these people left their lonely bubbles of quarantine to unite in this common purpose.

One of the persons who was looking for Finn for those six days says, “Thank you, Finn, for giving us a common purpose and giving us a reason to talk to each other.”

And I thought it was such a beautiful, simple, vestigial reaction to a fundamental problem. A dog is lost. This dog has to be found. And he was. That’s the story of Finn the Bernese Mountain Dog, just like Bear here.

And you know what? It reminded me of Jesus’ famous parable. “Which of you,” he asks, “which of you having 100 sheep and one gets lost wouldn’t leave the 99 behind to search for the single lost lamb?” Or the lost Bernese Mountain Dog?

The story made me so happy I wanted to share it with you. I hope it makes you happy too. May the Lord bless you and keep you. Amen.