My dog Lily is a therapy dog, meaning that she is trained to bring companionship to the lonely, comfort to the sorrowful and joy to the depressed, just for that moment. Together, we visit nursing homes, hospitals and other institutions where people may benefit from Lily’s presence.
Lily got a lot of her early training to be a therapy dog by going to weekday Mass with me as a puppy. Our little mountain parish in western North Carolina is small and everyone enjoys her presence. Lily learned how to greet friends nicely; how to wait to greet them until she was instructed to do so; how to sit quietly by my side; and how to stay while I went to communion. She doesn’t go on Sundays, just weekdays.
We leave Mass and go directly to the nursing home where we take communion to a few residents, and she visits everyone. Mass puts her in the right frame of mind and behavior for the visit — and I always said she carried an extra bit of grace with her. She’s been working about eight years.
We are always greeted enthusiastically at the nursing home — though with some odd misunderstandings. Our area is largely Baptist, and the presence of a Catholic dog can stir the imagination.
The story of Lily
“Hey, lady-with-the-dog, what’s your dog’s name again? Lily?” asks one resident. “My great-niece is Penny — do you know her? She says she knows you because she sees you and Lily in church. I said she was mistaken; who would take a dog to church? Do you know Penny?”
“I do know Penny. Small world, isn’t it?”
“Now, why would Penny see your dog at church?”
I explain how Lily enjoys going to Mass with me.
“Well, that’s a new one on me,” she exclaims. “Penny’s Catholic, you know. I’m an Independent Baptist, and we don’t do that sort of thing.” I explain the details, and with that, Penny’s great aunt Della is off and running down the hall with the story.
“Maudie Lane, come here. I’m going to tell you such a story; you won’t believe this. You know that dog that visits us? Lily is her name. She goes to church in the Catholic church. Well, that’s not something we’d do, but that dog goes to church every single day. Can you believe that? She got trained there, the lady said.”
Maudie retells this story to the nurse’s aide: “Yes, that’s right. That dog goes to church every single day at the Catholic Cathedral. Why, she was even born at the church. Yes, as just a little puppy they say, isn’t that something? I guess she must live there.”
The nurse’s aide, Maudie and her roommate decide that the lady and the dog must live in Charlotte since the cathedral is there. The nurse’s aide has some Catholic friends, so she knows this for a fact. “I wonder why they just don’t visit in Charlotte instead of coming up the mountain?”
“Well, perhaps it has something to do with Lily’s training,” says Maudie’s roommate. “The lady said the dog got trained there, so they probably live here, but go to Charlotte to get trained.”
Maudie’s roommate then tells another resident, Floyd, that Lily has some kind of a grace that she got at the Cathedral where she goes to church every day of the week. Floyd says he used to be married to a Catholic and they do all kinds of strange stuff that normal people would never do, so it doesn’t surprise him at all that they take their dogs to church. He confirms the story with Della.
In this way, the story of Lily took on a life of its own and ended up sounding something like this: The puppy Lily was born in the Catholic church, goes to Mass every day, and goes to the cathedral in Charlotte for her training where they give her grace to bring back here to the mountains on Thursdays, because that’s apparently something Catholics need to do.
A caring suggestion
They’ve all decided that even though Lily and I — the dog lady — are Catholic, we’re nice people, so they won’t hold that against us. But they suggested we find someplace else to get trained, since the cathedral is so far a drive. They said they doubted Baptists did that sort of thing, but we might want to check, since the Baptists are just up the road.
They reassured me that they all enjoyed our visits, and even though we’re Catholic, they hope we’ll always visit them whenever we’re here from Charlotte.
This is a funny story, but at the same time I find it sweet. It doesn’t matter that it got skewed a bit. They don’t have a lot to talk about, and they obviously find Lily interesting and exciting. They care that we drive so far to “get trained,” and they care that we come to visit them. They care enough to offer the very sensible suggestion to check out the Baptists for dog training, since the Baptists are so much closer.
These folks don’t have a lot of resources. They’ve lost the power to manage their business affairs. They’ve no money or things left in their control. But they still care. Caring is a wonderful resource and a gift that can never be taken away.