Media Hound

Delilah’s gotten a fair amount of press over the years. In some ways she’s the media darling I’ll never be — she’s smart, funny, attractive and isn’t too proud to beg.

She’s was prominently featured in an essay titled “Dog Days” that appeared in my book “What Size Are God’s Shoes.” The publisher liked her so much she even appeared in cartoon form on the cover. A digitized picture of her once accompanied an article I wrote for the Episcopal New Yorker (a version of which you can read here) and she made the local television news in New York running with me down Sleepy Hollow Road following a man-on-the-street interview. In other words, she is the ultimate media hound.

So it should come as no surprise that when Forward Movement announced they’d be publishing a 2012 Episcopups Calendar she jumped at the chance to be included. Yesterday was the photo shoot but before I get to that let me explain the calendar concept.

You see for years Forward Movement Publications has put out an Episcocats Calendar featuring cute shots of cats in all sorts of poses. People, presumably Episcopalians, submit pictures of their cats and hope to be one of the lucky twelve. It’s my understanding that the Episcocats Calendar has traditionally been one of Forward Movement’s cash cows — though they have not, to the best of my knowledge, ever released an Episcocows Calendar. (By the way, if you’re interested in learning how to submit your dog’s photo click here. But remember many are called, twelve are chosen).

When my archnemesis, Scott Gunn, seized the reigns of Forward Movement a few weeks ago he promised major changes and exciting new initiatives. I can only imagine that the Episcopups Calendar is one of these hot new ideas that will reimagine and reinvigorate the Church as we know it.

Anyway, the casting call for the new calendar has gone out. I’ve threatened Scott that if Delilah is not included I’ll never speak with him again. Unfortunately, he was encouraged by this “threat.” So I’ve had to submit Delilah’s picture under Bryna’s name to insure she’s not left out due to the spite of the one I like to refer to as the Rupert Murdoch of the Episcopal Church.

I won’t take this opportunity to malign Father Gunn’s character. He’s been a dog person for many years and, frankly, likes Delilah more than me. Though I do think that the only reason he got the position at Forward Movement was because he had a cat. What happened shortly after his enthronement was announced? His cat died. Hmmm. That’s suspicious.

Delilah workin' it during the photo shoot

I didn’t trust myself or anyone else in our family to preside over Delilah’s photo shoot. For this reason we brought in her official fashion photographer, our friend Christine Dietterich of CED Design. She took some great shots some of which I’m sharing here but, because of the extreme secrecy surrounding the Episcopups Calendar, I can’t post the shot we ultimately submitted. I’m thinking she’d make a great Miss January.

Doggie Dating

Pet BlessingSt. Francis Day pet blessings will abound this Sunday. A note to priests: if you use holy water don’t say the wrong words and end up baptizing the neighborhood hounds. It’s a theological debate your bishop may not want to engage. A note to pet owners: although your dogs, cats, goats, whatever may appear at times to be possessed, please don’t ask your priest to perform an excorcism. We’re not allowed (without the bishop’s permission anyway).

In honor of the day, here’s the latest installment of my monthly In Good Faith column for the Hingham Journal. It’s also pasted in below. Enjoy.

Doggie Dating, a Family Affair

 By the Rev. Tim Schenck

My wife, Bryna, and I missed the whole online dating thing. When we were married in 1995, was not even a gleam in the Internet’s eye. I’m not complaining; I can’t imagine a picture of someone in a clerical collar gets many hits. But I do feel like I made up for it when we decided to adopt a dog four years ago.

When we finally caved in to our boys’ incessant lobbying for a dog we went where else? To the Internet. There were all sorts of pet adoption sites out there. So we narrowed our search to local shelters and rescue agencies and started “shopping.” Hundreds of pictures of all sorts of dogs came up along with accompanying descriptions. So you’d see an angry-looking pit bull with the comment “not good with young children” or a cute little beagle with the observation “mostly housebroken.” Never having experienced it, this is precisely how I imagine online dating works – pictures of people next to descriptions like “hates watching Monday Night Football” or “leaves the cap off the toothpaste.”

This process of online doggy dating quickly became a family affair. The four of us gathered intently around the computer quickly judging the dogs by their covers, or fur in this case. And when we saw the 1-year-old yellow lab/husky mix, we all knew this was the dog for us. After filling out an amazingly detailed application, we went to meet her and fell in love. She was gentle, sweet and starved for attention. We found out from her handler that she was saved from a kill shelter in South Carolina – literally a “dead dog walking” until Pet Rescue stepped in to live up to its name. And speaking of names, we chose Delilah. Or actually I did. Assuming I’d be the one outside yelling her name for the entire neighborhood to hear, I vetoed Zack’s suggestion of Chippy.

In early October many Christian churches honor the little-known St. Fido. Officially we celebrate St. Francis Day on Oct. 4, but in many parishes this is merely an excuse to bless pets. I’m not sure how St. Francis would feel about this, but he probably wouldn’t mind. His concern for all God’s creatures lends itself to the tradition. And it could be worse: at least his statues aren’t buried upside down to facilitate a house sale, ala St. Joseph.

Most pet blessings incorporate a wonderful blend of holy chaos – yelping dogs, skittish cats, hissing snakes. Precisely how I envision the hold on Noah’s ark, except with vestments. St. Francis Day pet blessings provide profound testimony to the value we place upon the animals with whom we share our homes. Pets can open our eyes to the divine qualities of love and compassion in the world. That’s really why we bless our pets in October. But you don’t need a pet to see that the human condition is full of surprising, loving encounters. We just need to open our eyes to the possibilities that surround us. There are lessons to be gleaned that transcend the superficial plane of our existence. They can be found everywhere – through our relationships (human, divine and canine) and in the seemingly routine events of our lives. If a cat or a dog or even a snake can point the way toward harmony among us, what better way to honor the legacy of St. Francis?

You may not be surprised to know that Delilah’s got me wrapped around her paw. She comes to the office with me, walks with the family down to Nona’s on a regular basis and is my faithful running partner. At St. John’s we’re holding a Blessing of the Animals on Sunday, Oct. 4, at 4 p.m., out on the church lawn. Come on by, bring your pet, and meet Delilah. She’ll be happy to give you a lick.

The Rev. Tim Schenck is Rector of the Episcopal Parish of St. John the Evangelist. Visit him on the Web at where you can access his blog “Clergy Family Confidential.”

Dog Fancying

DelilahWatching your beloved dog having a seizure is no fun. But that’s precisely what happened at our house yesterday afternoon. I was standing near Delilah on the driveway as she suddenly shot down and went into convulsions. It only lasted a few minutes but it felt like an hour as she stiffened up and thrashed about.

I tended to her as Bryna called the vet. I actually picked her up — no mean feat — and carried her to the back yard because she was uncontrollably banging her head on the pavement. She eventually came out of it as I sat with her and calmed her down. And then she was fine for the rest of the day — back to her usual self. We, however, were not fine for the rest of the day, which we spent observing her with shot nerves.

Bryna took Delilah to the vet today and everything looks normal. Some dogs evidently develop a form of epilepsy between the ages of two and five (she’s four). When and whether she has another seizure will determine the treatment plan. If it’s in six months to a year there’s no reason to put her on medication; if it’s relatively soon we’ll have to look into this.

We have friends who jokingly say that all their pets (and they have many) are Christian Scientists. In other words they refuse to pay boatloads of cash to the vet to extend the lives of their animals. Which sounds cruel until you get the bill from the vet for doggie chemo. But holding Delilah in my arms while she was convulsing made me want to do almost anything to keep her healthy and pain free. We probably won’t splurge on that pricey animal neurologist in Yonkers but when we know what we’re dealing with, it may involve an investment of sorts.

In the meantime, she’s by my side at the coffee shop as I take a break from crafting my sermon to write this. She’s as content as could be “gathering the crumbs from under thy table” (here’s an esoteric question: can dogs be in hog heaven?) and is being her usual charming, slightly stubborn self.

Hopefully yesterday was just some strange fluke. Because if she has another seizure, I just may go into convulsions myself.

Mud Prints in the Sand

paw-print1It’s not on the liturgical or secular calendar but we are in the heart of Mud Season. And it’s getting old. Our mudroom is living up to its name in spectacular fashion these days. Having two boys and a dog only add to the mud-laden glee. The only words out of my mouth are, “Take off those disgusting shoes before you go into the kitchen!” or “Get over here with those paws!” or “Making ‘mud angels’ in your new coat ? Are you kidding me?” (and I’m not kidding about that last one).

I’ve wiped Delilah’s paws so many times in the last week I feel like I’ve opened a canine spa specializing in doggie foot massage. I’ve been tempted to invent doggie booties to prevent paw prints all over the first floor. These probably already exist but mine would be made of that Swiffer material so there’d be a dual function: no muddy prints on the floor AND dusting at the same time. It’s a brilliant concept, don’t you think? Better than one of those vacuum cleaner robots. The only problem would be wrestling them onto Delilah. I know I’d end up being covered in mud.

There’s a lesson here, of course. We can’t completely control and sanitize our environment. Mud gets in; things we’d rather keep outside enter our lives. And we have to deal with it. Whether it’s muddy paw prints or filthy sneakers or an unexpected illness or the loss of a job. There’s always the proverbial fly in the ointment waiting to disrupt our perfect plans. Although I admit I’ve never seen an actual insect in any ointment I’ve ever encountered.

Part of this was inspired by this morning’s “Non Sequitur” cartoon by Wiley Miller. Yes, it’s Mud Season. Enjoy.

Dog Days

dogI tried to watch the Westminster Dog Show. I really did. But after five minutes of watching overweight handlers trying to keep up with their schnauzers, I gave up.

I guess what really turned me off was that the dogs involved weren’t actually acting like dogs. There was no mischief or nipping at the judges’ heels or inappropriate scratching. They were all too perfect: perfectly behaved, perfectly coiffed, perfectly cute. Like Stepford dogs.

It’s the same reason I cringe whenever I hear about those JonBenet Ramsay-style kiddie pageants. There are no tantrums or whining or begging for chicken nuggets. Sure, the stage mothers are full intrigue and back-stabbing. But the kids involved don’t actually act like kids.

Plus the whole thing seems so arbitrary. I realize there are breed standards the judges look for. But for the life of me I can’t tell the difference between one well-behaved poodle and the next. Or between two little yappy things that are nothing more than glorified cats. I’m also somehow disturbed by the whole sense of the “perfect” member of the breed. I can’t help but hear overtones of the Aryan ideal. And I’d certainly hate to be judged against the stereotypical human by, say, a bunch of hyper-critical otters. I’d come up short based on height alone.

I guess I prefer mutts like Delilah who probably won’t win any behavorial contests but can dole out unconditional love with the best of ’em. There’s a reason “God” spelled backwards is “Yahweh.” Or something like that.

Dog Fur Deluxe

pig-pen1Delilah’s shedding like a fiend these days. When she runs up the hill behind our house she looks like a fur-clad Pigpen except with hair rather than dirt trailing after her. That was a Peanuts reference — though I don’t remember Snoopy ever shedding.

As a still relatively new dog owner (2 1/2 years) I haven’t gotten used to this. Fleece is not a good option this time of year. I know this because for some reason I wore a fleece pullover yesterday. By the afternoon it looked like I was wearing a hair shirt. And it’s not even Lent.

I’ve also ingested at least a tuft of hair that’s floated into my coffee mug over the past week. I’m worried I might cough up a hairball one of these days. That would confuse Delilah, especially if I went out and bought me some catnip.

I know she’ll stop shedding as suddenly as she started. But it seems like just when I finished vacuuming up all the leftover pine needles from the Christmas Tree, she began to shed. So, I’m wondering what’s next? Maybe one of the boys will start to molt.

I know there are aspects of ourselves that we’d like to shed — personality quirks, stress, pounds, dysfunctional relationships. Perhaps that’s the lesson in all of this. And if only it were that easy; if only we could get rid of what we didn’t want twice a year. While having someone gently brush us three times a day. If Delilah would hold off until Lent this might make a good Lenten reflection. At least by then I’ll be back to wearing fleece.

Dog Fancy

Bryna’s been dropping hints about getting another dog. Subtle things like bringing up pet adoption websites, clicking on some cute dog with, well, puppy dog eyes and exclaiming, “Isn’t he so cute?” And of course he’s cute — perhaps the most adorable ball of fur I’ve ever seen. But so are the 20 other dogs on the website.  

Her other tactic has been to look at Delilah and say, “Don’t you think she needs a friend?” But wait a minute. I’m Delilah’s friend. Don’t I count? Who takes her to the office with me nearly every day? Who takes her running? Who takes her to her favoirte coffee shop every week? If anything, I’m Delilah’s faithful companion rather than the other way around. Man’s best friend? I’m her best friend.

Bryna’s hasn’t been pushing too hard yet. Just dropping these little hints. I’m worried she’s going to enlist the boys in her campaign. I can withstand one set of online puppy dog eyes but I’m not sure about a dinner-table full of them. 

In some ways it probably doesn’t matter — it’s not as if another dog would add anything new to the already overflowing family chaos at our house. I might not even notice. But I’m trying to stay strong and hoping this second dog idea is just a passing (dog) fancy. In the meantime I’ll just avert my eyes whenever she brings up the online puppy photos. It’s just too tempting.



delilah2.jpgDelilah is shedding. Big time. Our 2 1/2 year old yellow lab/husky mix is the sweetest dog in the world.  But twice a year she sheds like crazy. In fact it’s more like she’s molting — perhaps she’ll come out of this as a crustacean. When she runs around she reminds me of Pigpen, except she’s followed by a cloud of fur rather than dirt. That’s a Peanuts reference for those keeping score at home.

If you have a dog — and I’d love to hear from you — you know what we’re going through. I vacuumed the rug yesterday for no apparent reason. I mean it was nice to do since I was able to get up the needles from the Christmas tree. But it didn’t have any effect whatsoever on the dog hair. It didn’t help that I was wearing a fleece pullover; I now look like a dog.

I’ll continue to take Delilah outside and brush her, though it just seems to make the hair multiply. I keep thinking if I could only invent a use for dog hair, I’d be rich. Maybe I can convince people that dog hair is the new goose down and start making coats. Sure, some people might be allergic to “doggie down” but caveat emptor (let the buyer beware)