October 7, 2005

Faithful Lines / Shirley Vogler Meister

The blessings in canine stewardship, ministry

Last week, I urged readers to “Honor God through responsible animal care,” stressing stewardship of all God’s creatures. I timed this for the Oct. 4 feast of St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals and the environment. I then briefly mentioned the cats I have loved, but now I focus on dogs.

My personal experiences with dogs have been checkered but memorable. Recently, however, I spoke at length with a woman I met when having a medical test done at Northwest Radiology in Indianapolis. An employee there, Liz Stanton, recognized me as a Criterion columnist. For some reason, we began talking about pets, and she told me about her two dogs, Sophie, 11, (a long-haired dachshund shepherd chow) and Chewy, 10, (a yellow lab shepherd). They assist her in a special ministry she began at St. Monica Parish in Indianapolis, where she is active in seven other ministries.

Although Stanton’s life story is what I call “excellent book material,” in our conversation she focused on her ministry to the sick and the elderly in Indianapolis. She has been a visiting extraordinary minister of holy Communion for four years. Sophie and Chewy go with her to Hoosier Village and Robin Run health centers, but also have visited residents at St. Augustine Home for the Aged. She shared what I already knew from my years of eldercare and advocacy: Many nursing home residents are “forgotten people.” (This term does not apply at St. Augustine Home, a model retirement center where, as a volunteer, I witness unconditional love for all residents.)

Readers eager to follow Stanton’s lead can start a similar ministry by contacting nursing homes for permission and setting up a routine to visit receptive residents. (Please contact me for further information, and I’ll have Stanton’s respond.)

She moved to Indianapolis from New York, where her former pastor referred to her as “Francis” because he once quietly watched her while she fed a variety of wildlife—a scene he likened to St. Francis of Assisi’s “peaceable kingdom.”

She shares the blessings that occur between her visiting, socializing dogs and residents: anticipation, love, personal connections, comfort, mutual acceptance, patience, trust, understanding, calm, unconditional devotion and more. Her dog Sophie often rests with her paws crossed as though praying, so she uses this gesture to introduce and emphasize the importance of residents’ prayers—the perfect ministry for elders, for this helps anyone, on the prayers’ focus.

She also shared with me a quotation by the late environmentalist-author Rachel Carson: “Until we have the courage to recognize cruelty for what it is, whether its victim is human or animal, we cannot expect things to be much better in this world.”

For animal care and rescue information, please check www.petfinder.com, www.indiana-paw.com or www.tailsawaggin.org.

(Shirley Vogler Meister, a member of Christ the King Parish in Indianapolis, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)


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