Vincentian DOGMALaurence Tiblis
They’re loving, funny, comforting, and good company. They help reduce stress, anxiety, and depression; ease loneliness; encourage exercise and playfulness; and even improve cardiovascular health. And, they’ve been loyal companions to the Vincentians of the Eastern Province for decades.
He walks around St. Vincent’s Seminary grounds in Germantown like he owns the place (which no one denies he does). Head held high, he fluidly navigates the seminary grounds in search of treats, belly rubs, and a friendly word. He is Hudson, a black Labrador-German Shephard-Chow mix and the “campus” dog, who has been a loyal companion to the Vincentians at the Eastern Province Seminary for fourteen years.
Hudson is just one of a long line of priestly pooches, who have graced the halls of the motherhouse since its founding more than 170 years ago. So, what is the attraction—ergo connection—behind canines and confreres?
Since Vincentians live in a communal environment, adopting a dog requires house approval and a confirmed allocation of caregiver responsibilities. Fortunately, the Eastern Province’s canines are welcome companions for the Priests and Brothers, who are actively engaged in ministries or retired at the infirmary residence.
Today, Hudson is the Eastern Province Seminary gatekeeper and confrere companion.
“Hudson has become more than a house pet,” states Fr. Bernard Tracey, CM, former Superior of St. Vincent’s Seminary and current Executive Vice President for Mission at St. John’s University.
“Hudson has befriended many people who live, work, and visit the Seminary and St. Catherine’s. Since the day we got him, he has been a blessing in all our lives.”
Liz Wilson, Director of Residential Services at St. Vincent’s Seminary, who has a background in gerontology, notes the benefits of having a house dog. “Pet therapy is important to mental and physical health for seniors,” she confirms, “and Hudson has become a therapy dog for infirm priests; an honorary member of the maintenance crew; a squirrel control master; and house entertainment.”
Fr. Timothy Lyons, CM, recalls his canine housemates during his tenure at St. Vincent de Paul’s Parish and the Eastern Province Seminary: Aubie, Casey and Reuben. Each of the these dogs has added a unique quality that has enriched the Vincentians’ households.
“Aubie was big, lovable, and dumb; Casey was soulful, faithful, protective; and Reuben was full of life,” Fr. Lyons notes.
EVERY DOG HAS ITS DAY
Instinctually, dogs are bred to protect their humans. As Fr. John Timlin, CM, recalls how some dogs are better-or worse-than others. Velvet was proof of that.
In 1979, while stationed at Archbishop Wood High School, Fr. Timlin inherited Velvet, a black Labrador Retriever.
According to Fr. Timlin, Velvet was a loving companion. True to her breed, Velvet was famously friendly, bonded well with the Priests, and generally socialized genially with others. She enjoyed exercising, chasing animals, playing marathon games of fetch, and cuddling. But don’t come knocking on the door; her bark scared even the toughest of souls. That is, until the Priests opened the door.
“Ironically, while ferocious when visitors came to the door, she did a hasty retreat upon their entry,” explains Fr. Timlin. On one occasion, the Priests’ residence had an intruder, and Velvet was nowhere to be found. “She only came around after all the commotion died down,” laughs Fr. Timlin.
"Hudson has befriended many people who live, work, and visit the Seminary and St. Catherine’s. Since the day we got him, he has been a blessing in all our lives."
HOWLING WITH LAUGHTER
Dogs have some amusing characteristics, too, and the Vincentian dogs were no exceptions.
According to Fr. Timlin, giving Velvet a bath was like entering a water-themed amusement park. On one occasion, after Velvet had a close encounter with a skunk, Fr. Timlin was delegated to the unpleasant task of de-skunking her. Bathing her was usually an ordeal, and removing the pungent musk just made it that much more unpleasant, yet entertaining.
Pup and priest battled it out, but in the long run, Velvet won. While Fr. Timlin was able to give her a bath, Velvet made sure he emerged totally drenched.
Fr. Lyons recalls his first experience with dogs while serving in the Eastern Province novitiate. Mabel, the novice director’s dog, considered herself part of the novitiate pack, who made sure she was always in the midst of her pack’s discussions. Aubie, a Golden Retriever (named after Auburn University, Alabama) was an excessive shedder who left her hair-laden mark on every priest. Wearing black garments didn’t help, but it eventually became a badge of their dogged devotion.
Fr. Greg Cozzubbo, CM, proved to be a mutt matchmaker after he arrived at St. Vincent Parish. Aubie, official dog-in-residence, quickly bonded with him, and the two were inseparable. Father would do anything for Aubie, even serve as a match-maker. Enter Casey, a female Golden Retriever, who Fr. Cozzubbo named after a turnpike exit while traveling to Nags Head, North Carolina. Before long, the priests welcomed a litter of eleven pups, creating a scene of nonstop chaos and caregiving. Once old enough, the Priests knew they had to find homes for the puppies.
“Fr. Greg put the puppies in a basket, which we brought out after Mass one Sunday,” Fr. Lyons remembers. “Some of the parents were furious, because they knew their kids couldn’t resist them.” Needless to say, all the pups found homes.
And then there was Meme. Meme was unlike any of the other Vincentian dogs. A pedigree show dog, whose stage name was “It’s All About Me,” she was well-loved at St. Vincent’s Parish. Sunday mornings became her showtime as the parishioners held a hospitality gathering where Meme was the star attraction. She brought church and churchgoers together in a unique bond.
“[Meme] was elegant, queenly, and had a motherly energy,’” Fr. Lyons recalls. “Everyone loved her.”
Today’s Seminary gatekeeper, Hudson, has provided his fair share of entertainment. It all started the moment Fr. Tracey and Wilson met Hudson, who clearly chose them, not vice versa.
“Fr. Tracey opens the back car door, yet the dog climbs into the front seat, sits down and puts his paw out the open window,” recalls Wilson. “Fr. Tracey responds, ‘Oh, this dog is never coming back here.’” Needless to say, at thirteen months of age, Hudson, found his “furever” home.
While Hudson is a gentle dog today, that wasn’t always the case. As a puppy, he enjoyed running freely on the Seminary grounds. Kevin Mosley (Seminary maintenance and Hudson’s caregiver in Fr. Tracey’s absence) and Fr. Tracey would chase him in an effort to corral him from running into traffic. Hudson saw this as a game and playfully gave them quite a workout.
To gain some control over the rambunctious pup, Fr. Tracey brought in a professional dog trainer. Hudson’s behavioral assessment by the dog trainer indicated that Fr. Tracey needed more training than Hudson. Father laughs at this. “I am not sure how much we trained him, but he certainly trained us. When he wants a cold drink, he goes to a water fountain, and then hits the fountain with his paw. Whoever is with him takes a cup and fills it until his thirst is satisfied.”
Years later, Hudson has definitely slowed down. Wilson reminisces about how, as a young dog, he would run up and down four flights of stairs. Not so much today. “As Hudson ages, he prefers taking the elevator,” Wilson smiles as she recounts Hudson’s antics. “So now he waits outside the elevator until someone comes along to give him a ride to whatever floor he wants.”
“All our dogs are love machines: They love getting affection, they love giving affection,” says Fr. Cozzubbo.
Hudson has been more to the Priests than a companion. Fr. Tracey tells of the bond between Fr. Joseph Wright, CM, and Hudson. Everyone could see how their relationship was sincere and affectionate. Sadly, Fr. Wright died and after his wake, Hudson was with Fr. Tracey as he was straightening up the chairs for the funeral service. As Fr. Tracey turned to see where Hudson was, he noticed him at Fr. Wright’s casket, where he stood on his hind legs with his two front paws resting on the casket and his nose at Fr. Wright’s ear. “It looked like he was whispering something to Joe,” Fr. Tracey notes. “I am certain Joe was thrilled.”
The Vincentian dogs have been devoted, faithful, loving creatures, who became part of the social fabric for the Eastern Province. These tail-wagging, face-licking, cozy-cuddling companions created a bond and formed affectionate relationships with many of the Priests and Brothers. Maybe it’s no accident that God spelled backwards is dog.