The National Catholic Review
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As a young child, I desperately wanted a puppy dog. I pleaded with my parents over and over again in the hope that continued pestering might move my father (my mother was neutral) to say yes. But he never did: “There will be no Hund in my home.” That was that; the lawyer had spoken.

Crestfallen but undeterred, I brought up the matter again in a couple of years. This time my father was outside our house speaking with a friend. When I rushed over to make my plea for the nth time, he said something to his friend in German and then promised me I could have a dog if I attained at least a 98 percent grade average on my next report card. Did I leap for joy when my next grade average was 99.6 percent!

So the following weekend my obliging parents took a drive to get me “a pet.” Not the canine I had expected, it was a parakeet! Resigned to fate, I named him Dusty because of his light markings. To my surprise I quickly fell in love with my feathered friend. Even more surprising, so did my father. Whenever he did paperwork at the dining room table after dinner, Dusty was by his side. Dusty also loved to perch on the rim of his eyeglasses. My avian friend also learned to talk and acquired a pretty good vocabulary. And his “voice” sounded identical to the person’s from whom he learned a particular word or phrase. I never realized how much fun, joy and comfort a pet brings into a household.

Years later, after both Dusty and my father had passed away, I did get a dog (pace Dad). Owning a dog, of course, is a greater responsibility, but the rewards are countless. Prince brightened the lives of adults and children alike (one little girl thought that his full name was Principal and always called him such). Once, when my uncle was home recovering from surgery, we thought a visit by Prince might lighten his spirit. Before ascending the staircase to my uncle’s bedroom, the dog’s sixth sense kicked in. He gingerly climbed step by step and eventually slithered to the bedside, putting one paw gently on the pillow. That is far from uncommon behavior. Dogs have strong instincts. In fact, the mere presence of dogs and other domestic animals, experience bears out, has a calming effect not only on the sick but the well, too.

Prince went off to heaven one day, and I was heartbroken. Only a pet owner can imagine the strong bond forged between humans and their best friends and the profound sense of grief and loss that follows death or separation.

More than companions, many dogs (often strays) are specially trained as detection dogs to track wildlife poachers, for search and rescue, for drug-sniffing, for leading the blind and for general service.

The appeal of such memoirs as Marley and Me, by John Grogan; Vinnie Here: Fanciful Conversations Between a Pastor and His Dog, by the Rev. Joseph Kraker; and Dewey: The Small-Town Cat Who Touched the World, by Vicki Myron, and many other such books attest to the unique relationship we have with pets.

Sad to say, not all relationships with animals are like this. Instances of animal hoarding and abuse increasingly make the headlines. Happily, state lawmakers are growing tougher on offenders and imposing stricter penalties for convicted abusers. In fact California lawmakers, according to another report, are considering creating an online registry for animal abusers. Fuller recognition of animal abuse and stronger responses to it are long overdue.

Well, dear reader, since the mid-90s I’ve become a bird mother again (two cockatiels who enjoy chewing my red pen when I’m home proofreading). No problem—except for our managing editor sometimes. The main thing is, we’re a happy family of three: Alice, Frankie and me.

Patricia A. Kossmann is literary editor of America.

Comments

Joseph Kraker | 5/2/2010 - 6:37am

Dear Patricia,


 


Thank you for your mention of Vinnie and me in your April 26 article. Vinnie has gone to his rest, but nor before finishing another book "Through the Year with Vinnie". I miss him very much, and everyone here at the parish was so morose after his passing, that I found a successor, Minnie, who now carries on Vinnie's work as church dog and writer.


 


PS. If you go to our parish website, stvincentchurch.com this week, May 2, you will read of Vinnie's passing. God bless you for your efforts. America is the one magazine a read regularly. If you think it worth the effort, I would love to write an article on the relationshio between a priest and his dog.

michelle benedict | 4/16/2010 - 2:33pm
Thank you, Patricia. Your article brings back memories of my departed, beloved pets (cats, birds). Good to see that America magazine highlights all of God's creatures!

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