2014: Get Lost!

So the end of a crappy, crappy year is upon us. I spent today taking my beloved pet, Haze Hayes to the eye doctor who thankfully sent him home with meds and not with surgery plans.

Might as well end on a sort of an up note.

But the Holy Father noted today that the end of a year should be marked by gratefulness, for what has been and for what will be, but more importantly…

“…the Church teaches us to end the year, and in fact each day, with an examination of conscience. This devout practice leads us to thank God for the blessings and graces we have received, and to ask forgiveness for our weaknesses and sins.

The fundamental reason for our thanksgiving, the Pope explained, is that God has made us His children. It is true, he said, that we are all created by God – but sin has separated us from the Father, and has wounded our filial relationship with Him. And so “God sent His Son to redeem us at the price of His Blood.” We were children, the Pope continued, but we became slaves. It is precisely the coming of Jesus in history that redeems us and rescues us from slavery, and makes us free.”

This indeed is true. And so here’s a look back at some of the great things in 2014.

From the World of Medicine
My father survived a bout with colon cancer.
The dog went through a lot of surgery but lived despite it all.
Great doctors, great vets are a sure sign of thankfulness.
Two tough guys duked it out with illness and prevailed.

From the World of Vocation
3 semesters into being the director of Campus Ministry with ups and downs, joys and sorrows.
New initiatives taking hold as we move forward.
Appreciative students who make it all worthwhile and easy.
Good colleagues and friends continue to bring much joy and companionship, especially on tough days.
I’ve developed a greater appreciation for order, calmness and beauty.
That God-forsaken rickety ugly church sign is gone and replaced by a lovely smaller sign affixed to the outer church wall.
I will be editing/writing a new retreat manual for the U.S Pilgrims with two of my favorite colleagues.

From the World of Relationship
Marion and I have been together for 14 years, 12 of them married.
That girl, loves me, you know?!
And I love her more with each passing day.

So the year hasn’t been all bad.  And in the process, I will begin a new year of more focused blogging again.  So I am indeed grateful for much…and for you dear reader.

And so we pray…

Dear Lord, teach me to be grateful and patient.
Teach me to find you in all things, past, present and what will be.
In these things, remind me that I need to see the goodness in the world
Even when times are tough.
Mostly, Lord,
Teach me to find you in all things
For your love and grace are enough for me
If I but remember this all the year through.



Who is Harder to Mourn: Dogs or Humans?

Jayme Stayer, SJ over at The Jesuit Post, recently lost his beloved Basset Hound, Tristan Xavier. The pain, I assume was twice as bad as when he had to choose between his dog and joining the Jesuits. I can remember a friend described a conversation he had with the members of his religious community when they discussed the possibility of getting a dog.

Priest 1: “Hey, we should get a dog!”
Priest 2: “Not just ‘No” but “Hell, no!'”
Priest 1: “What? Why not?”
Priest 2: “Because we all say that we’ll take care of the dog and nobody will and then one day we’ll look in the corner and say ‘OMG! The dog died!’ That’s why!”

True enough and Jayme ponders whether religious communities could have pets considering their mobility every few years. But as you know, I have a deep fondness for my own Chihuahua, Haze Hayes, and recently went through a tough time where he very nearly did need to be “put down” because of two major infections that antibiotics didn’t seem to be able to kick. In the end, Haze bounced back mightily with the help of the fine folks at the Blue Cross Animal Shelter, who I will be nominating for sainthood one day. It came at great personal expense to my wife and me to have the dog go through surgery. But we indeed are glad we did so, even if it means we are broke and that we’ve discovered the evils of our Pet Insurance Company who did not deliver on their promises.

I too, was very grateful for my work colleagues. They covered things for me in my absence and I’m sure that the urgency of a dog’s care, for some, is less a priority than saying financially solvent. My dog is still a young Chihuahua, so we made the effort. One of our vets said that many people would not have made the effort that we did. That many consider a dog more utilitarian, fine to own, but not the equivalent of a relationship. Simply put, it would be cheaper (much) to get another dog than to have a surgical procedure performed on a pet. One vet noted:

“That’s indeed true. But the new dog won’t be THAT dog. The one you have a relationship with and that you have raised all these years.”

And indeed that was the deciding factor for me. Difficult though it was, my dog lives and I pray he will live for a long time post-surgery. Call me crazy, but I love the dog and when the dog finally died, I know it will be a hard time for Marion and me. Jayme points out the difficulties in mourning a beloved pet.

The beloved, if ill-defined, place of a dog in our affections makes the problem of mourning for a dog complicated. It is easier to expect sympathy from others when we are grieving a friend or relative. But most people avoid the melodrama of announcing to acquaintances that their dog has died. John Homan, in his book What’s a Dog For?, notes: “Caring for a dog at the end of its life and grieving after it’s gone is in some ways more complicated than grieving for a person, because the question of what a dog is is far from settled.” I would press Homan’s point further. It’s not just a problem of essence (what a dog is) or function (what a dog is for). It’s a question of relationality: what our relationship with a dog means. The problem of mourning for a dog is bound up with the problem of believing that we love a dog. And love can mean lots of different things. The emotionally traumatized may find that it is a dog’s love that brings them back to life; the relationship that epileptics or the blind have with their dogs enables them not merely to survive but to flourish. Nevertheless, while dogs might offer us practical skills as well as something resembling unconditional love (they will play with us even if we’re ugly, insensitive, or sarcastic), dogs never challenge us when we’re being stubborn or petty.

There is no risk in loving a dog. And so what it means to love a dog is necessarily limited. There is something pathetic about Leona Helmsley—wealthy, tyrannical—clutching her dog and grinning at the camera. What does her love for a dog mean when she was so monstrous to the humans around her? It’s generally clear what we mean when we say that we love our parents or friends, because that love participates in, and derives from, divine love. It’s also clear what we mean when we say that we love nature, a movie, a book, or a sport, because that love is reverence for divine creation or the human genius that is its reflection. But when we say we love a dog, we’re not referring to a point that exists on a continuum somewhere between human-love and object-love. We seem to be referring to some other category altogether.

True enough, with one glaring exception in my opinion. There is risk in loving a dog, (or anyone else for that matter) and the risk is this. That the receiver of your love may in fact, one day no longer be with you. We all die, eventually. We don’t like much to focus on that, but we do. Death is indeed, is sad for us, but it is also a part of life. The love shared by those in life is never killed by death, but rather it is transformed into what is everlasting. I believe that is true for the love we share with creatures who are not human as well, of course, as those we share with our family, friends and colleagues from whom we risk, not receiving the response of love we get unconditionally from our pets and ultimately from God.

In tribute to “Tristan Xavier Stayer—the dumpiest, doofiest, dim-wittedest, and dearest basset hound that there ever was” I will share his dulcet tones, now silenced.

And I pray that when Jayme and his family meet the end of this life’s journey, they will find themselves led into God’s Kingdom by a bounding, jowl dripping, dear basset hound, who will be one of the many reasons that evidences that their reward in heaven awaits.

A Dog’s Morning Prayer


Today’s morning prayer is translated from the dog.

In the morning, it’s cold,
but when we pray
together in the morning
with me on his lap,
I can feel the warmth
Of my best friend
Who is my favorite heat source
On these cold mornings.

He rescued me
But he says that
I really rescued him.
Because like you
I can love him unconditionally

Help my pal to see others
As you see all of us
As creations called to love
One another
As you love us

And on these warm mornings
That he provides me with
May you warm my Paul’s heart
So that his heart
May be warm for others.


Missing Larry

As the winter has subsided, making way for summer, my dog, Haze, has begun to enjoy the outdoors a bit more. He also has many human friends in the neighborhood. There’s an older man who sits in his beach chair in the warm months and offers him a dog treat or two. There’s a younger couple who love to see him trot by their home. The little kids wave and think he’s cute.

But Larry…Larry has been Haze’s favorite.

Larry is a much older man and he would often be in his garage working on a car or some other project and Haze would simply stop and watch him until he was noticed and then Larry would smile and say in a deep Southern drawl:

“All right, now! C’mon! Talk to me!”

And Haze would begin to bark on cue.

It’s at this point that I’d like to point out that Haze often won’t speak for me! But Larry had the dog whisperer touch.

“C’mon over here and I’ll scratch your ears a bit!”

I’d bring him over and Larry’s smile would get wider and he’d keep Haze entertained for a good while before we’d head back and conclude our walk. One day he even gave him a ride on his mini-tractor!

In the winter months, Haze isn’t as happy to walk that far and often when we do get to walk past Larry’s house, he wouldn’t be outside as much–the weather being too cold for outdoor projects.

But with the summer’s dawn, we ventured down his block and found a sign in front of Larry’s house:

“For Sale”

photoHaze looked at the sign, looked at the empty garage, and somehow he knew the worst had happened.

Indeed, the old man has passed away recently.

Haze began barking a sad bark, a near howl.

Brian, one of the guys who worked with Larry, who also knows Haze, heard him barking.

“Aw, he misses Larry, huh? Yeah, buddy, me too!”

I asked about Larry and what had happened to him. A routine checkup led to a medication that he had a bad reaction to. He had a paralyzing stroke and he lasted only a few weeks.

“How old was he? He didn’t seem too old of a man and he was so active working out here.” I said.

“Well, he had two birth certificates!” Brian said.

“Of course he did!” I laughed. He was a character.

One put him at 92 and the other at 88.

Brian surmised that Larry was a vet and he probably wanted to go to war but was underaged—so he faked a birth certificate to get him into the outfit.

Indeed, a true man for others.

Today Haze stopped by Larry’s house and got very quiet. He stared a long time at that house and then looked back at me with sad eyes. We walked quietly together, praying for Larry and knowing that he had shown us much friendship for merely passing by.

And the world seems like a better place for his passing by. And so we pray for our neighbor, a hard-working man who enjoyed simple things: his home, his garden, hard word and the loyalty of a good dog.

Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May Larry’s soul and all the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.

Ripley the Dog RIP

My buddy Ripley had to be put down this week while I was away. She had been failing for some time. Ripley, was Fr. Jack’s Olde English Sheepdog here at the parish and I loved her. She was a 2 year old rescue dog from Indianapolis and she came with Quigley who left us last year. She lived to a very old age of 13, which for big dogs is very, very old.

Fr. Jack is in Hawaii and I imagine he is very sad along with Fr. Pat who was one of Ripley’s favorites.

For myself, I grew closer to Ripley who’d come by my office and visit, knowing she was always welcome. Some days she’d just lay down on my floor and snooze until I’d get up to leave. Sr. Jeremy had her in her later years as a constant companion and our parish office manager, Joanne would always find her laying in her doorway.

Here’s one of my favorite moments with Ripley from our 50 Day giveaway.

I believe that there are dogs in heaven, after all, what would heaven be without them (or any pets?)? And by that, I mean that the unconditional love that our pets have shown us (dogs especially) will be even more present to us in heaven. Once again, we’ll feel the love that these creatures of God have shown us and it will be a great communion of that love in the presence of God.

While sad (I cried all the way home from Long Island and when I passed Ripley’s yard this morning),I am also filled with gratitude. Fr. Jack rescued Ripley, as I did with my dog Haze and as he said, she in turn has rescued us. Ripley, now freed from her pain is in peace. I will miss her and she will always have a special place in my heart.

Now I’m off to play with Haze the Dog.

Today’s Guest Blogger: Haze Hayes the Dog

Hi folks! I’m Haze Hayes the Dog and it’s my birthday! So Dad granted me one wish after I blew out the candle on my doggie burger today. So I wanted to ask him if I could blog on his site. He said, “You might as well since I haven’t been able to blog much lately.”

I used to blog so often and dad’s thinking of leaving me the computer so I can do it again while he’s at work. I type slow but that’s because my paws aren’t very long and it’s hard for me to reach the keyboard sometimes.

But the reason I wanted to blog is because dad’s been busy lately. Besides running the campus ministry at St Joe’s and doing a bunch of other things there, Dad’s been busy with mom. She’s OK, but they’ve been a bit worried because the doctors found atypical cells and something else on something she called a mammogram. I’m not really sure what it is but I know I go on the breast cancer site to give people free ones because mom tells me that I should.

They’ve been so good to me, so I thought I’d ask all of you to pray for mom this week because tomorrow she gets the results of her breast MRI and while we’re pretty sure everything is benign, we can’t be positive until tomorrow–so we’re keeping vigil until then. Regardless, mom needs some minor surgery even if everything is OK. So that will happen on Halloween. “Trick or Treat—my long wagging tail!” I said when I heard that and licked mom on the nose which made her laugh and get a little grossed out.

So dad’s been a bit preoccupied. So my gift to both of them is to give you readers an opportunity to pray for mom, so that everything will be OK no matter what we hear tomorrow. We know it will be because God will be with us through all of the challenges in our lives, no matter what happens. Like that time that the Horses in Central Park in New York freaked me out and made me bark because I was too afraid. Or when the German Shepherd up the charged me and dad. Or the time I slid into the coffee table. Or when I ate a piece of a brillo pad.

I kinda get into messes sometimes. Dad deals with a lot.

So if you’ve got an extra prayer, send them mom’s way. She’s still a bit worried even after she didn’t freak out in the MRI tube. I think I’d like the MRI tube because it’s like my crate, but I don’t think I’d like the noises it makes. That would hurt my big ears.

So despite all the stuff mom and dad have been through they still had time to buy me a new toy and a Halloweenie Sweater. Sweet! They said I get hamburger for my birthday which is a special treat too! But I only want one thing for my birthday and that’s to be sure that mom is healthy.

So if you don’t know how to pray, I can help you today. Check me out and then do what I do:

And let all the dogs in the church howl: Amen.

Gracie the Dog, RIP

It’s been a bad week for dog owners who are Catholic bloggers. First Elizabeth Scalia loses her best friend and then today, Fran Rossi Szpylczyn, a dear friend of mine reports that her beloved Gracie who rallied a bit after not being well earlier this year, went over the rainbow bridge today.

Needless to say, I’ve been hanging out with my dog, Haze, a bit more the past few days. He’s laying right next to me now and is snoozing peacefully. But earlier today he was extremely playful. So I thought these might cheer my friends up.

Rest in Peace, Gracie. I’m sure that St. Ignatius greeted you today and carried you to the Lord’s healing embrace where he gave you new life and you now run and chase rabbits all day long.

Blessings, Fran. Know of my prayers.

She Came to Say Goodbye

Elizabeth Scalia, better known to most as The Anchoress at Patheos has suffered a loss. And many of us in the blogging community are wishing her much sympathy as she mourns the loss of her beloved dog and faithful companion, Allie.

It’s an amazing story really. Here’s a clip:

I went to bed asking Saint Francis to be with her — that it if was her time, to keep her from suffering.

And this morning, in my dreams, she came to me and put her sweet, open face into my hands, and I said to her, “oh, my beautiful Alle, you are such a good girl, such a good, good girl. But it is time for you to go, now.” And she died as I held her.

And I woke up instantly, knowing she had passed. Went to her and there she was, eyes open, still warm. My Alle. Our girl.

She had come to say goodbye, because that is the sort of dog she was. The best dog, the smartest dog, the most care-taking dog, ever. The one who knew when any of us was sick, and came to lay with us. The one who watched at the window as we left, and ran to the door when we returned, because all she knew was love, love, love.

OK get the klennex, I’ll wait….my tears are still falling as I write this.

Some are thinking that this is silly, mourning an animal and if you do then you have probably never owned a dog, or never really known a dog at all.

My dog Haze is turning 7 this year. He is a rescue chihuahua and he came our way when he was about a year and a half old. They don’t give you a history at this rescue, but I fear he was an abused dog. He wasn’t socialized and even today despite training he can barely tolerate other dogs. Chihuahua’s live a long time. I had a friend who had a 20 year old chihuahua who lived with untreated cancer for more than 3 years! So I’m hoping that Haze is not yet middle aged (As I am), but has many more years of life in him. I’m not sure how we’ll say goodbye one day but I know that I’ll probably cry harder than I have at most funerals of human beings who I loved very dearly. He’s a good boy, sometimes crazy, sometimes wacky, but he’s MY wacky dog and I love him.

He was a good dog today and came wagging his tail when we got back from a glorious day at Niagara Falls with visiting friends, Marc and Lexie. He even waited for me to take him for his walk, which we enjoyed so much in the late evening today.

He used to blog as fast as his little paws would type about all sorts of adventures. But the adventures have been a bit more sedate since the move to Buffalo. We don’t meet too many interesting people on our walks here as we did nightly in Woodside. We’ll have to try to resume blogging in a new way. This year.

But some of the old stories are killer. Just laugh out loud. Chihuahua Stowaway is one of my favorites from this blog about Haze and here’s one from his old blog as well.

I’m off to give him a nice rub o’ the belly and put him to bed. He’s a good dog and I hope to enjoy him for many, many more years.

Elizabeth, we are so sorry for the loss of your pal. Know of our prayers to Francis today for Allie. Jack Wintz’s book “Will I See My Dog in Heaven” was quite a comfort for one of my friends recently. Hope that you might find a similar comfort in these coming days and thank you for sharing such a deep and personal story. We should all have as happy a death as Allie did—

And as happy a life as well.

Having A Pet Makes You Healthier and Makes Ministry Stronger Too

Told ya so. From WebMD:

People in stress mode get into a “state of dis-ease,” in which harmful chemicals like cortisol and norepinephrine can negatively affect the immune system, says Blair Justice, PhD, a psychology professor at the University of Texas School of Public Health and author of Who Gets Sick: How Beliefs, Moods, and Thoughts Affect Your Health.

Studies show a link between these chemicals and plaque buildup in arteries, the red flag for heart disease, says Justice.

Like any enjoyable activity, playing with a dog can elevate levels of serotonin and dopamine — nerve transmitters that are known to have pleasurable and calming properties, he tells WebMD.

“People take drugs like heroin and cocaine to raise serotonin and dopamine, but the healthy way to do it is to pet your dog, or hug your spouse, watch sunsets, or get around something beautiful in nature,” says Justice, who recently hiked the Colorado Rockies with his wife and two dogs.

Agreed. There’s nothing like running or walking with my dog, Haze while the sun sets. Marion joins us sometimes for a family walk as well. He gets to go out three times a day and I usually do the morning and evening walks. On days I don’t get to the gym I at least walk an extra time with Haze during the day, sometimes sneaking away for a quick jaunt during the work day if I’m traveling between campuses.

But how, might you ask has haze furthered my ministry?

I have but five examples of things my dog reminds me of each day. They all have made me a better minister:

1) Hospitality: No matter what Haze gets up and runs to the door every time I come home (or when anyone comes over). Sometimes he’s sleeping and he wakes up and makes his way over a bit more slowly but he still comes over. He’s excited to see a friend at the door and I put my hand down to him and he lowers his head in submission. This can be translated loosely from dog language into English as: “My house is your house, what can I do for you.”

2) Empathy: If I’m having a bad day or if I’m simply sad, Haze will jump up on my lap, give me a quick lick on the face and then settle in to my lap and simply be there with me. Somedays he just sits next to me touching my leg to feel the heat from me (Chihuahuas get cold) and we share a symbiotic relationship. He gets heat and I get to pet him and calm down.

3) Care for the Elderly: There’s two little old men in our neighborhood who Haze visits regularly on his walks. The first one gives him cookies and Haze can’t pass his house without bounding happily even if he’s not around. The second is man with a deep drawl who asks Haze to talk to him each time he comes around. Haze yaps happily knowing intuitively what he wants. Today, in fact, he ventured over to him and got a nice back scratch for a long time while we all talked together. That dog has made me a lot of friends.

4) Give thanks for food: All I have to say is “Haze? Food?” or “Haze? Treat?” and he jumps up like it’s the only meal he’s ever going to get. I often imagine people who are hungry are quite thankful for food, any food. The joy of being fed is always joyful. Am I as joyful for my meals?

5) Forgiveness: I once clipped Haze’s skin in his harness and he yelped uncontrollably for a few minutes and when I’d try to release the harness, he’s snap at me because I was hurting him further. Finally I jimmied the thing off of him bringing relief and he ran away from me into his crate. I thought the dog would never want anything to do with me again. I sat on my couch and cried because I had hurt the dog. He came running up to me and literally started licking the tears out of my eyes. “It’s OK pal. It’s over.” I do believe that God forgives us the same way. Our sins are completely eliminated and we have no need to hold on to our past. Don’t we all sometimes hold resentments against others? God doesn’t. God completely forgives us 100%–no lingering of resentment is there. Dogs do the same thing reminding us of God’s mercy and how we’re called to the same kind of forgiveness.

So I am better… a better minister in the church, a better husband (after all, my wife got the dog for me), a better friend…and healthier to boot because of my dog. I’m so glad that Chihuahuas live a long time, but even a dog with a short life can bring joy that lasts forever.

So what are you waiting for? Go rescue a dog. And you’ll get a friend who’ll make you just a bit better than you already are.