Do dogs seek comfort at church? It is amazing testament to this by how Tommy has gone to Mass. Every afternoon in Santa Maria Assunta church in San Donaci, Italy, the dog has walked to church after his beloved owner died two months ago.
German Shepherds are famous for their protective abilities and intelligence, and at age 7, this one is no different. Adopted as a stray, Tommy would eagerly trot by former owner Maria on her errands and to church. When Maria died two months ago, Tommy came to the funeral on his own. Each day when church bells have chimed, Tommie has gone to Mass, and has sat quietly in front of the church. None of the parishioners have complained. Instead they have all embraced his loyal attendance and have given the dog food, water, and shelter. In essence, Tommy has become the church family’s dog.
Remarkable and inspiring loyalty from dogs is not new, but church going dogs have not been noted that much in studies, probably because dogs are not commonly allowed in church services. Anecdotal evidence, as early as 1880, has testified of the persistent behavior of church going dogs.
Just a few years ago, in November, 2011, a similar story occurred in Rome in the southern region of Puglia. Ciccio, a 12-year-old German shepherd, trotted to the church when the bells would ring every day after lunch, a pattern he had learned when his owner was alive. Just as incredible as how Tommy has gone to Mass, dogs like Ciccio have sought comfort at church and have won the heart of the people. He has sat right at the feet of the minister at the services, and those who attend the church, have provided food, water, and a covered area on the church grounds for him to live comfortably. It is believed that Ciccio has continued to mourn for his owner.
The Church of Scotland, dubbed the “Kirk,” is Presbyterian, and came about from the Scottish Reformation. These small congregations would sometimes include a large number of devout dogs.
One report in an 1882 version of the New York Times described how dogs were often included in small church gatherings in Scotland to the point of having a significant impact on the ritualized order of the service. It was common to have 30 dogs in a tiny service, making the crowd much bigger. On one occasion a visiting Edinburgh minister was disturbed that the congregation would not rise for the benediction. Everyone stayed in their seats to his surprise, and he was befuddled. An old clerk, sensing his embarrassment blurted out, “Say awa, it’s just to cheat the dawgs!”
The group had learned that whenever they stood, the dogs thought it was time to leave, so to avoid the confusion, they had decided to remain seated.
In the same historical context, the Queen of Scotland visited Crathie Church, and observed a fine dog that followed the clergyman into the service and stayed solemnly nearby until it was over. The following service, the minister left his dog at home, and the Queen demanded to know why the dog was gone. When the minister explained he had heard that her Majesty had been perturbed by the dog’s presence, she countered by saying,
“Why not at all! Pray let him come as usual; I wish everyone behaved as well at church as your noble dog.”
In a tale during the 1920s from Chicken Soup for Pet Lovers’ Souls, a dog named Barney suddenly disappeared one morning before church. As the family arrived at church and had sat through prayers and hymns, the children were beginning to fidget just as the pastor began speaking. Then they heard scratching, and an unmistakable howling of their dog Barney. As soon as a few parishioners tried to shoo the dog away, the dog squeezed through the doors and ran to the organ where the mother played each Sunday. As the congregation murmured, and smiled, it marked the beginning of a weekly occurrence for the dog to come. The dog would come each week even if the family was not there, and if the mother wasn’t playing the organ, then the dog would leave.
Another reason dogs have come to church is to help owners who have disabilities. Murray, who is a young autistic boy in Ireland, can be seen toting his dog Clive to church.
It is a question that can touch the heart: do dogs seek comfort at church? One may not believe that they do, but Tommy, Ciccero, and Barney and other dogs have demonstrated undying devotion at Catholic Mass and other churches.
Dogs have a way of sensing danger and knowing who to trust, and their presence at church may very well tell us that they are there to protect their human counterparts, and indeed, seek a solace that cannot be found outside those walls. Perhaps dogs should come to church more often because of how they add an undeniable quality of love and devotion that is uniquely charming.
By Danelle Cheney