My family loves animals. Growing up in Prince Edward County across the bay from Belleville, Ont., we were fortunate to have room for two Siamese cats (brothers Argo and Minty Moo-Maw) as well as an assortment of dogs, fish, birds and horses. These animals were part of our family and their passing was felt individually and collectively as a huge loss. We always had at least two dogs (they are pack animals, after all) and sometimes, three.
But dogs don’t live as long as cats or horses and when one of our beloved canine family members passed away, we would cry for days. My father, perhaps anxious to “fix things,” would wait six months and then, despite my mother’s protestations, would arrive with a new puppy. Each dog had a distinct personality and relationship with us and all of them remain part of our family history.
On quiet days, I often bring Charlie, my black Cocker Spaniel/Poodle (known as a “Cockapoo”) into the national office of the Anglican Church of Canada. He loves people and most people love him. When news of Charlie’s presence “in the house”-Church House, that is -reaches the primate’s office, Archbishop Fred Hiltz has been known to ask whether this joyful little dog, whose docked tail spins like a helicopter blade, might be available for a visit. Call it pet therapy or a brain break, Charlie gets Fred’s attention whenever he has a moment to spare. Fred loves dogs, too, and was deeply saddened by the passing of one of his two Labrador Retrievers.
Not all people feel the same way about dogs, of course. So Charlie, who is a non-shedding, hypo-allergenic breed (since I am allergic to dogs) is confined to quarters at the Anglican Journal. I close our department door and tack a sticky note on the outside that reads, “Charlie is here today. Please come in!” Funny how many staff take the opportunity to come and visit on “Charlie Days.”
Bringing my dog to work occasionally isn’t all that weird. According to the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association, about one in five U.S. companies finds value in letting employees bring pets to work. These are mostly small companies, of course, but Google and Amazon also do this. And in Toronto, at least one church may be working on a pet policy. Or perhaps St. Peter’s Anglican Church will simply have a “no pets” policy, after a truck driver invited to attend his first Sunday service took communion along with his dog, Trapper.
According to reports in the Toronto Star (July 22, 26), the deputy people’s warden was sitting near the front of the church when the priest instinctively leaned forward and placed a communion wafer on the dog’s tongue. “Nobody felt it was a big deal,” the warden said.
One parishioner complained to the diocese of Toronto, however, and the Star had a field day with headlines. “Holy eucharist! Dog bites the biscuit,” read one report. Then, on a more sombre note: “Priest sorry for dog communion gaffe.”
Some might call this situation unfortunate but I think it provides an opportunity for reflection. We bless animals and yet how far are we willing to extend a state of grace?
In yet another example of clergy-canine connection, I recently came across a story from Shepherdstown, West Virginia. It seems the rector at Trinity Episcopal Church brings his bulldog, Sophie, into work every day. According to an Associated Press report (Metro, Jun. 28), Sophie acts as “special pastoral assistant.” Her job is to greet and to listen. “She has an uncanny way of knowing when somebody comes in here upset or out of sorts,” says Rev. G. T. Schramm. With Sophie’s help, I’ll bet Schramm has moved pastoral care at Trinity up to the next level.
Interesting how animals can be so intuitive. For one thing, their thinking isn’t clouded by moral judgement. Their love is unconditional and their capacity to forgive far exceeds ours. Their joy knows no bounds.
All I have to do is look at Charlie running flat-out across the park, his ears streaming out from his head. Despite a long day of waiting for me, he is ready to rally at the drop of a hat. Charlie accepts everything without question or complaint. He is always his “best self” and I thank God for his healing presence. Ω
Kristin Jenkins is editor of the Anglican Journal.