My Spirit Animal


Listening For The One Who Never Stops Caring Or Calling

by Eric Elkin

My sheep recognize my voice. I know them, and they follow me.
— John 10:27

Jussi is my spirit animal. From the moment we first met at the Humane Society, it was love at first sight. When I am in the room, nothing else exists. His gaze is entirely on me. Calling it a gaze is not altogether accurate. It’s more like a stalker’s stare that pushes the envelope of uncomfortable.

I’ve never been around an animal with this much affection for me. Jussi can sit by my side and stare at me without blinking or turning his head for 30 minutes. I love him, but it can get a little creepy.

It is pretty evident that Jussi [pronounced “you-see”] is a yellow lab, although, we are not entirely sure of his history. He has a ton of energy and a desire for affection. Thankfully, someone trained Jussi before we got him. 

The first time I opened the door to let him in from outside, he waited for me to give him permission to enter. He responded immediately to voice and hand commands. He’s not a dumb dog, but he is simple. Jussi can only handle one word at a time. The command, “Sit,” works, but he is confused if you say, “Sit down.”

Best of all, Jussi knows my voice and listens to me whenever I call. I can walk him without a leash, and he never leaves my side. If he sees a deer, all I have to do is say, “Stay,” and he stays by my side. When a car comes, he listens to me and sits down until it passes.

When I was a child, we didn’t train our first family dog. He didn’t know our voices, commands or boundaries. Once, when we left the house for church, he broke free from his chain and ran out into a busy street. He was most likely trying to follow us when he was hit and killed by a car. Leashes are wonderful, but they do not protect a dog like an owner’s voice.


Such short little lives our pets have to spend with us, & they spend most of it waiting for us to come home each day.
— John Grogan

Jussi listens to me in all situations except one, playing fetch. When it comes to playing fetch, he hears nothing, sees nothing and cares about nothing except the object he is fetching. Our neighbor told me he has never seen a dog go after a ball quite like Jussi. No other dog in the dog park fetches with Jussi’s level of determination.


I need to be careful when playing fetch that he does not hurt himself. He will run until his paws bleed. More than once, his body has slammed into trees. He’s tripped over logs in the woods and run through thorn bushes. The other day, his legs were bleeding, and I have no idea how it happened.

Last summer, we were playing fetch in our front yard. I threw his “Kong” and did not see a car coming up from the hill. Jussi chased it, hit it and pushed it out into the street in front of the oncoming vehicle. My reaction was immediate and full of panic. I screamed at him to stop, but he could not hear my voice. Thankfully, the car saw him and stopped. What a scary thing not to hear the sound of the one calling out for your protection. 

Jussi is my spirit animal. In many ways, we are the same. The fetch that consumes my focus is my work. I enjoy it so much, I do it until it hurts. Fortunately, I have learned how to listen to and for the master’s voice. But, it is more a learned discipline than a natural reaction. There remain times I do not fully listen. Thankfully, the master never stops watching, caring and calling out for your protection.


Click to read John 10: 22-30

Reflection Questions:

  • What is your “fetch,” the thing which consumes your attention to your own detriment?

  • How has playing this game shaped your life?

  • When do you listen for the voice of the master?

  • When should you be listening for it, but don’t?

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