Dog’s best friend is often a priest


PROVIDENCE — Christians around the world will celebrate the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi this Saturday, honoring the Italian saint who is well-known for his love of animals and all of God’s creation.

The founder of the Franciscan order is often depicted talking to and surrounded by a menagerie of critters — both large and small — who were charmed by the gentle man’s ways.

While St. Francis cherished the unconditional love that many animals offer, so do several priests serving in our diocese.

Father Joseph Paquette, pastor of St. Teresa of the Child Jesus Church, Pawtucket, enjoys the companionship of a small dog. He owns Norah, an eight-year-old Shih Tzu-Maltese cross.

“When I saw the litter, she came right to me,” Father Paquette remembered, noting that because of allergies, he never previously owned a dog. The priest explained that Norah has hair, which produces less dander than fur. Dander are skin cells that cause an allergic reaction when released into the air.

“She’s the matriarch of the rectory,” Father Paquette said, adding that Norah waits for him at the door in the middle of the night when he is called to the hospital or a nursing home for an emergency. “She licks me when I come home.”

When the dog thinks that Father Paquette’s guests have stayed too long or if a parish council meeting is running late, the tiny dog appears and barks once.

“She’s telling me it’s time for them to go home and for me to to go to bed,” the priest acknowledged.

Father Paquette said while Norah is not a lap dog, she loves to sit at his side.

“It’s a comforting feeling,” he said. “She’s good company. She greets everyone who comes to the rectory.”

If you’ve seen a towering greyhound and its owner walking briskly along the streets of Smith Hill in Providence, it’s probably Father James Ruggieri, pastor of St. Patrick Church, and his dog Molly.

The busy priest said he adopted the light brown hound from the Lincoln Greyhound Adoption Program at the former Lincoln Racetrack so he’d have an exercise companion. Molly, now five years old, is a former racer whose owner placed the agile dog up for adoption three years ago.

“She has a very beautiful coat,” Father Ruggieri said. “She’s very docile and she’s great in the house.” The priest added that the tall dog seldom barks, and only makes a little noise if she’s upset or in a playful mood.

“Molly is not disruptive in any way,” he concluded.

Father John Soares, newly-installed pastor of St. Thomas Church, Providence, enjoys the companionship of former stray Dusty Rose, a dachshund-rat terrier-Chihuahua mix that resembles a miniature pinscher.

“She was on the run for two weeks,” the priest recalled, adding that he obtained the small dog last November after she was picked up by West Greenwich Animal Control. Father Soares said the dog was emaciated and covered with tick bites, and had to be gently nursed back to health at a local shelter. A veterinarian who was treating the animal recommended that the priest visit the dog, who bore no tags and was never claimed.

“I took her,” said Father Soares. “She was down to next to nothing.”

He named the lively canine “Dusty Rose” after Red Sox player Dustin Pedroia, who is known for his tenacity on the field.

“She’s little and spunky — she’s come a long way,” observed Father Soares, adding that the once-homeless dog loves to meet people and make friends.

“She goes over to St. Thomas School and the kids really love her,” Father Soares said. “They want to see her more than me. All the teachers have treats for her in their rooms.”

Father Soares said that for a priest living alone in a rectory, dog ownership can provide many benefits. Dusty Rose offers unconditional love, is a great exercise companion and an outstanding ambassador.

Mention the word “dog” to Father Bertil Anderson, pastor of St. Rita Church, Warwick, and he’ll tell you about Angel, one of the most memorable Christmas gifts he ever received. About 15 years ago, at the conclusion of the Children’s Christmas Eve Mass, the priest looked up to see a small girl walking down the aisle clutching a small furry puppy stuffed into a Christmas stocking.

“She was the cutest little girl,” Father Anderson recalled, noting that the puppy, a German shepherd- husky mix, had a little pug-like nose, two floppy ears and two big front paws that were hanging out of the stocking.

“The whole church started crying, including me,” said Father Anderson, adding that all the children crowded around him in the vestibule to welcome the newest member of the parish family.

“She wasn’t just a pet,” the priest recalled, noting that she routinely greeted visitors to the parish food pantry, and often consoled parishioners visiting the rectory to speak to Father Anderson by placing her head on their lap.

“She wasn’t just a pet,” the priest recalled, noting that she routinely greeted visitors to the parish food pantry, and often consoled parishioners visiting the rectory to speak to Father Anderson by placing her head on their lap.

“She was amazing,” Father Anderson observed, adding that Angel suffered from cancer and had to be euthanized when she was 10 years old.

“I was just heartbroken,” the pastor said, noting that when he picked up Angel’s ashes at the veterinary office, staff members told him that the best way to overcome his grief was to save another dog’s life. He visited a few animal shelters that day, before finally meeting an enthusiastic black Labrador retriever that immediately stole his heart.

“She tipped me over and started licking my face,” Father Anderson recalled of his introduction to Abigail, then seven months-old and full of energy. The priest explained that the dog’s early days were not so pleasant. Someone had slashed the puppy’s throat and left her for dead in the woods in Alabama, where the dog was born.

Mustering all of her energy, the dog crawled out of the brush and was discovered by an elderly woman, who notified animal control. Once healed, the beautiful sporting dog was shipped to a shelter in Peace Dale, where she was discovered by her new owner.

“She is a beautiful girl,” Father Anderson noted, adding that the dog loves to go camping and has lots of toys, including a stuffed duck that quacks.

“Who saved whom?” Father Anderson asked. “We both helped each other.”