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May 18, 2020
May 19th: Moving on
May 19, 2020

Priests and their pets: Creature comforts

By Lara Pickford-Gordon
Twitter: @gordon_lp

Who teaches us more than the beasts of the earth and makes us wiser than the birds of the heavens?” – Job 35:11

The relationship between a pet and its owner is special. There is love, devotion; happy times, even empathy, the pet does not need words to communicate their affection!

Fr Matt and Rosie

Fr Matthew d’Hereaux’s pal of nine years is Rosie, whom he dubs “Catholic par excellence!”. With physical distancing the norm these days she is the only living creature touched and hugged for six weeks and counting.  Fr Matthew says she is “heaven sent”.

“I love my dog Rosie”.

“God bless this parishioner,” he says of the person who gave him Rosie as a gift. He told the Catholic News “preseminarians in Carapichaima called her Rosie to reflect the day she came”—the Feast of the Holy Rosary October 2011.  He was not present for her arrival because he was in Rome but they soon formed a bond. She has lived with him in three parishes Carapichaima, Maraval and St Joseph.

Fr Matthew says, “Rosie is part of my daily routine and has gone on many a retreat and priest lime”. She has been a source of comfort with the physical distancing precaution against COVID-19 which has limited human closeness.  Fr Matthew alluded to effects of this in a Mass he had for families last month. He disclosed the difficulty of not even being able to hug his mother.

“At this time of COVID-19 Rosie was particularly comforting; she is the only living creature I could cuddle, hold and have physical interaction with. No masks and no six feet apart with her,” he says. Fr Matthew has a running joke with the Archbishop that he should love Rosie,

“because she saves the diocese a lot of money in therapy. Really without Rosie I’ll be going for therapy. This is especially true”.

Pets are good for mental and physical health.  Studies have found owing a pet contributes to improved health when the pet is a stimulus for exercise, reduces anxiety; they can help decrease loneliness and depression. They fulfil social needs without competing with human sources, boosted self-esteem, and a study found they can stave off negativity caused by social rejection.

It seems Rosie has taken on a vocation of sorts. Fr Matthew calls her a “consecrated virgin” since on three occasions she has refused to mate with dogs.  He says, “I regret she had chosen this state in life! Really! I would like to have many more like her running around my presbytery”.

Rosie has a beautiful temperament and he thinks she wants to be human.

“My mother calls her the angel dog! She is a beautiful creature”.

Rosie has been the source of many moments of amusement like her greeting, “ballerina behaviour”, up on hind legs, when Fr d’Hereaux gets close after being away for six hours. He says, “I always know when she misses me or when I was away for long”.

Rosie is observant and familiar with his movements. The carry-on bag signals his departure for an extended period. “When she sees it, she knows her papa is going, poor thing!”

Fr Matthew remembers Rosie in prayer, asking St Francis to intercede for her. She has her own St Francis medal. He hopes to see her in Heaven, although from a theological perspective, he is not sure this is possible. Fr Matthew says, “Rosie inspires my annual blessings of pets. I think Rosie and all pets symbolises the call to care for creation and be in relationship with all God’s creatures, like St Francis’ sustained relationship with creation.”

Is Rosie similar to Fr d’Heareaux? “Rosie is similar to me in that her bark is worse than her bite. When you get to really know Rosie you realise, she has a heart of gold like her papa”.

Fr David, Volvo and Bobby

His parrot is Bobby while his dog Volvo is named after a car.

He says, “My relationship with my pets can be described in many ways. My pets are like my family, they hold a special place in my life and heart”. As members of his family, he remembers them in prayer.

Fr David Khan says parrots are social creatures.

“In the wild, they live in flocks; in captivity, they like to cuddle and be spoken to. They will even ‘purr’ when held. If a parrot is ignored or neglected, it will act out, gnawing on wood or tearing at its own feathers. They’re like three-year-old children for the rest of your life”.

Things are “slightly different” with dogs.  Fr David says dogs lessen their owners’ worries, make them feel safer and people care for and nurture their pooches. “This symbiotic relationship is mutually beneficial”.

The relationship with Bobby and Volvo began almost around the same time nine years ago. Bobby was given by a parishioner; he was young, had no feathers and needed feeding every few hours. Volvo was born from a litter born of other dogs he had at the time. Bobby’s temperament varies. Fr David says Bobby is spoiled and behaves like a small child whenever he does not get his way. His behaviour is sometimes aggressive depending on his mood. Volvo “appears to be aggressive and can be if he doesn’t know you. He’s a big chunky boy that enjoys his walks and cooked food”.

Fr David’s pets have had a big influence on him. They have given him a different perspective on many things and taught him to be more patient and compassionate to all animals in general.  Fr David has observed despite having their individual personalities, they do exhibit qualities similar to him! “Bobby in particular likes to do his own thing, he likes to dance as soon as he hears music and also sings in his own parrot voice. He loves to mimic car alarms and answer the phone as soon as he hears it ringing”. Bobby likes eating all types of food, including those a parrot won’t normally eat. His eclectic taste buds include French fries, sweet potatoes, fried chicken and quinoa. Bobby enjoys watching television too.

The pets have their routine with Fr David. Bobby expects his head to be scratched in the morning and to be given attention. He is fed and left to his own devices until Fr David has some time to interact and have a chat. At night Bobby roams around for a bit and looks at television. “Volvo usually sees me in the evening time for feeding and play time” he says.

These animals have been a source of comfort during the COVID-19 lockdown.

“They do exhibit a level of understanding only a pet owner can know. Spending additional time with them also makes them happy and they enjoy having time to lay or get head scratches etc.” They sense his emotions. “If I am not feeling well Bobby tends to be easier going and will want to stay on my shoulder. If I am upset, he may be a bit aggressive depending. When I’m in a great mood and happy, he is usually upbeat and sending kisses, whistling and chatting”.

They bring humour to a day. Like the time he told Volvo to open his mouth and show his tongue and the dog let his tongue to hang out. “It was truly hilarious”. He gave Bobby the same instruction and he understood although he could not stick out his tongue because of his beak. “Doubly hilarious; he still enjoys wiggling his tongue if I ask him to. Sometimes he may even do it randomly by himself”.

Msgr Esau and his fishes

Msgr Esau Joseph’s fishes were given to him by parishioners who knew of his passion for this species.  Fishes are connected with happy memories of childhood. “From boyhood I was fascinated with fishes and how they were able to live totally submerged in water. With my childhood friends we made our ow aquarium and caught river fishes,” Msgr Esau says.

The fishes provide a relaxing effect, not only just seeing them in the tank but also taking care of them, cleaning the tank and filter and feeding them.

He does not know the type of fishes but say they come in different colours.

Msgr Esau says his fishes sometimes live for months. Having grown accustomed to their short life span, his sadness when they die is short-lived and he quickly gets replacements.