By ERIKA ANDERSON, Staff Writer | Published October 5, 2006
Father Patrick Kingery …
fell in love the instant he laid eyes on her.
Eleven years later, their devotion to one another has not waned. She’s there every day when he gets home from his daily responsibilities as pastor of Holy Cross Church, ready to jump into his arms.
One week after he began his first assignment as pastor, Father Kingery headed to Monticello to pick up Coco, then an eight-week-old Chihuahua.
Coco, now 11, Father Kingery admits, is a “spoiled little girl.”
“I love how spoiled she is. She’s never been disciplined in her life, but she’s so intelligent.”
Coco often accompanies her master to pastoral visits at nursing homes and to visit the children of the parish, Father Kingery said, but when it comes to the annual blessing of the pets, Coco makes sure all her peers know that she’s her daddy’s girl.
“I take her with me to the blessing of the pets, and she sits in my arms and watches all the action,” he said. “But she gets jealous when the other dogs get too close to me.”
Besides the companionship that animals provide, Father Kingery said they also have a spiritual lesson to teach.
“We can learn so much about God from animals. They have unconditional love, like God has for us. They are loving, they are trusting, they are forgiving—all things we are taught about God’s love for us.”
Father Kingery is one of many priests in the archdiocese who included their own pets among those blessed in honor of the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi Oct. 4.
Ranging from dogs to cats and even some farm animals, pets belonging to priests enjoy a special companionship with their masters.
Llamas And Peacocks And A Pig, Oh My!
On the front lawn outside Father Thad Rudd’s home in Cleveland, Moses stands near the bushes. He barely looks up from his carrot as a car pulls up the driveway. But as soon as Father Rudd calls his name, the black, nearly 300-pound potbellied pig comes waddling over to him, grunting happily.
“Moses is my favorite,” Father Rudd said of the approximately 8-year-old swine. “When he dies I’ll be heartbroken.”
But he won’t be bored. Father Rudd’s home sits on 13-acres of land in the North Georgia Mountains and is home to 12 llamas, four dogs, four cats, two peacocks, a parrot, and of course, Moses the pig.
Father Rudd, who is a married, former Episcopal priest, and his wife, Sherri, bought their first pet llama not long after Father Rudd was ordained a Catholic priest in 1991.
“I was serving at All Saints (Church) in Dunwoody…and I used to pass a llama farm every day,” he said.
At one point, the Rudds had as many as 18 llamas. Most of them are named after saints, like little Raphael, who was born Sept. 24 to his proud mother, Sarah, the Rudds’ first llama.
Sherri Rudd does much of the caretaking of the animals as her husband attends to his other flock, the parishioners of St. Paul the Apostle Church, Cleveland, where he is the administrator.
“The llamas are just so soothing and peaceful,” she said, as the animals made their signature humming noise in the background.
Father Rudd said that they often take the llamas to shows and also to the parish pet blessing, where they are a featured attraction.
“Lots of people have hobbies,” Father Rudd said with a laugh. “This is just what we do.”
An African Drummer In The United States
When Father Vincent Sullivan made the long journey from his native Zimbabwe in 2002, he wasn’t alone.
“Tom Tom was locked in hold below the plane, and I kept tapping my foot. When the air steward came by and asked me what I was doing, I said I was talking to my dog.”
Tom Tom, a Jack Russell terrier, dachshund, beagle and fox terrier mix, made it safely through the 20-hour flight and has been with his owner throughout his Atlanta assignments, including his current as parochial vicar at St. Michael Church, Gainesville.
Tom Tom earned his name because he often stands on his hind legs, shaking his front paws as if he is banging on a tom-tom drum, Father Sullivan said.
Like many of the other clergy members who are dog owners, Father Sullivan often takes Tom Tom to nursing home visits.
“He’s very disciplined,” he said. “And he knows lots of tricks. He jumps through hoops and sings, and his new trick is he falls down flat when I say ‘bang’ and make a gun with my finger.”
Father Sullivan said that as he’s made Atlanta his new home, he is still learning the “inroads of presbyteral fellowship.” But he can always count on Tom Tom to provide companionship.
As a priest, he has blessed many sorts of animals—“it’s a bit difficult to bless the goldfish”—and believes that Tom Tom makes the other dogs jealous at the blessings.
“He gets to run around without a lead, so they’re all envious. He’s free. He knows his master.”
A St. Francis Conversion Experience
Father Dan Stack never wanted a dog. He never liked the animals and didn’t want a pet that drooled and shed and ran his life. That was before a stray showed up at his parish, St. Francis of Assisi, Cartersville.
“All the church ladies talked me into keeping him,” he said. “So I took the dog home. And surprisingly, I really got to like him.”
But eight months later, the dog succumbed to diabetes.
“I was in a dreadful state of mourning,” Father Stack said. “So I went by the Humane Society.”
That day he came home with a bloodhound, which he named Beulah Ruth. Just a couple of months ago, the priest expanded his family when he adopted Fred, a border collie.
“I didn’t do my research. I didn’t know that bloodhounds are everything that I didn’t like about dogs—they drool, they shed like crazy…,” he said, with a laugh.
As part of their celebration of their parish’s namesake, St. Francis of Assisi Church hosts a pet adoption day with pets from the Etowah Valley Humane Society. Dorothy Wissler, one of the directors of the agency, is a parishioner.
This year five pets were adopted at the church, Father Stack said proudly.
And though the pastor admits to having a conversion experience when it comes to dogs, he has also learned to draw the line.
“When I saw the dogs (at the church), I thought ‘maybe I’ll get another one.’ But then I came to my senses.”
A Basket Full Of Bassets
One of the most well-known dog lovers in the archdiocese, Msgr. Pat Bishop, pastor of the Church of the Transfiguration, Marietta, is the happy owner of five basset hounds. Dulcinea, Lucy, Lulu, Barkley and Lollipop are humorously listed in the pastoral staff phone directory under the entry, “Complaints.”
“They get more calls than I do,” Msgr. Bishop joked.
Msgr. Bishop’s first dog as an adult was a Saint Bernard. The Georgia climate, though, wasn’t an ideal match for the dog, originally bred for the cold air of the Swiss Alps.
“Bassets are like mini-Saint Bernards. They have the same personality, the same expression, the same drool. There’s something about (them) that just tugs at my heart.”
Msgr. Bishop’s first obligation is to his parish but having the dogs helps to create some sense of balance in his life, he said.
“As a pastor, almost within a couple of hours, I’m talking to someone who has lost a loved one, and then I’m getting proposals for fixing the driveway. I walk through the halls and talk to someone who has an aunt that is sick, and then I have to stop and discuss curriculum. I can leave there and be stopped by someone whose marriage is breaking up and then go right from there into administrative meetings,” he said. “That’s the hardest thing about being a priest—going from one thing to another with such personal wrenching. But when I come home, no matter what’s gone on during the day, the dogs greet me the same way. I can unwind and get down on the floor and play with them. No matter how tense I am when I come home, if I spend five minutes roughhousing with them, I get a real sense of calm and peace.”
The five bassets come into the church once a year to “invite” parishioners to bring their pets to the annual St. Francis blessing.
“The people cheer when they come in, like it’s family coming,” Msgr. Bishop said.
Jesus, the pastor said, was said to have been “warmed by the breath of animals while lying in His manger.”
“Every time I look at these dogs, I’m amazed that they are exactly as God created them. They do perfectly what God has created them to do—which is to be a dog. They are holy just as they are.”
St. Francis has often been romanticized as an early day Dr. Doolittle of sorts, but Msgr. Bishop said that Francis had a special connection to all of God’s creation.
“Francis recognized that life should be lived simply, and he was in tune with God’s creation. It’s harder for us to do that when we are surrounded by steel and roads and concrete.”
“It’s a whole different thing to be sitting in the grass, petting a dog than to be standing in front of some mighty towers that man created,” he said. “I think that God’s monuments are better.”