“50 Years of Love”
By: Elizabeth St. John, BHPC Member
The following words were shared at our Blessing of the Animals Service by longtime BHPC member Elizabeth St. John:
It is nice to be here among friends, to worship God and to celebrate the blessings of animals. David asked me to share some Bradley Hills animal stories and also to share some thoughts on my own life with animals. When I came here as a child 51 years ago, worship was still in Memorial Hall. The church was a great place for kids, but not in the way that it is today. Worship was just not child friendly. It was always hard for me to sit still through a service, but my siblings and I had our survival strategies. A year after we came, the new sanctuary arrived with its own new attractions. When we sat in the balcony, we were distracted and somewhat amused by the bees. For some reason – the bees loved it up there. And, when we sat in the sanctuary, there were no stained glass windows in the transepts yet – so we had a direct view of the various pigeons that nested up in the windows. Just as the bees had diverted my attention, I loved watching those pigeons. I appreciate the stained glass windows, but I still miss the pigeons.
Throughout those years, I was the kid that you wished lived next store to you. Fortunately for me, our next door neighbors were the Krasnicans – they’ve been here even longer than my family. Jane was my second Mom and her daughter Susie and are still best friends. Susie and I would go knocking on doors, begging to walk just about anyone’s dog – for free, of course!
When I became an adult, I dove head first into the corporate world and did not have any pets. Sigh. A few years later, Ross and I got married here at Bradley Hills and within 6 months, we had our first house, first cat, and our first dog. It is funny how life works, once we got a dog, we became fixtures in the neighborhood. When you regularly walk your dog, you make friends and create a sense of community. Our neighbors who are not out walking don’t know each other particularly well and seem to feel much more isolated.
I reached a point in my life at which, as our pastor would say, my work life balance was all out of whack. I could not stand corporate greed and the world in which the bottom line matters far more than the people in it. I had to find a way to live that reflected my values and that allowed me to breathe. I walked away from that life in 1990 and have not looked back. I started a company that quickly failed. So I turned to pet care which evolved into having my own dog training and dog care business. This has allowed most parts of my life to converge in a way that makes sense for me.
I started dog training by getting advice from the Monks of New Skete – a group of monks in New York State who support themselves by raising and training dogs. This was before email, so I wrote them a real letter and one of the monks actually telephoned me one night – apologizing for the delay in responding because they had all been on silent retreat. Best excuse ever! Anyway, I followed his advice and the rest is history.
Many friendships have grown from this business of mine. I have been in the homes of a great many Bradley Hills families and they have been in mine – all through dog training and care. The same has been true of several BJC families. We have shared joys and sadness together in a way that you do not usually get to do. For most of us, the loss of a pet is deeply painful – but it is also not widely shared. There is not much in the way of shared grief to ease the burden. But when Ross and I lose a beloved furry friend, our mailbox fills with cards and our phone rings off the hook. And we reach out in turn to acknowledge the loss of our friends’ and clients’ pets. And there is always great joy when a new puppy or a rescued dog joins a family – so we get to experience the highs and the lows.
In preparation for today, I reached out to friends for their Bradley Hills pet stories and I remembered more of my own. I was reminded that when Susan Andrews was Pastor, we had a church cat. The cat worked her way into the building and had a great thing going – until she got fleas. No more church cat.
And, when Susan Taylor was here, she had a hilarious terrier named Duffy. She offered exercise classes at the church and always brought Duffy along.
When there was a children’s garden outside of Memorial Hall, I would sometimes come to weed the garden during the week. But if I had a client’s puppy staying at our house, I could not leave the dog alone. So I would bring the puppy along, and have a great companion while I pulled the weeds. I was out there one day when the Nursery School kids appeared for an outing. I had a golden puppy with me in a crate and the scene that ensued was just plain hilarious. Kids were climbing on that puppy’s crate and hanging upside down and chatting away with that little guy.
Another day, I had a young Airedale with me and brought him through the building. Again, the Nursery School kids appeared. This time, they were lining up along the walls near the Lounge. They discovered that the dog was named Rocket and instantly made up a song all about him that they all sang as Rocket and I walked by.
Nursery School stories keep coming. Jeanne Tustian told me about the fish bowls in the classrooms – and about the time that the petting zoo came for a visit, complete with a pygmy pig. And the mice who have come in from time to time uninvited and who have unceremoniously been escorted back out. Jeanne tells me that next week’s 60th anniversary photo display includes photos of the petting zoo, so watch for those.
And Mimi was telling me about her beloved Honee. Many of us think of Honee as the church dog – she was around here for a very long time. Honee made her rounds through the building to see her friends. She would visit the nursery school office, but never bother the classrooms. And, on several occasions, when one of the little kids was distraught over something, a teacher would appear at Mimi’s office door with that little child – requesting some personal Honee time to soothe that anguished soul. Mimi said that it worked every time. And when she lost her Honee, a great many of us grieved with her.
I do remember when David arrived at Bradley Hills and we were all still sizing him up. I saw that he had brought his dog Callie with him to the church and thought that was a very positive sign.
Just this past fall, there were 4 or 5 of us, including Barbara deLouise, working in the library. She was babysitting for April – her granddog. Well, we were working away and did not realize that April had left us and was making the rounds. A little while later, a person from the Friends Club appeared at the door with April in tow, asking – does this little dog belong to one of you? Like Honee, April was cruising around the building, making friends.
There are always more animal stories. I was out with a client’s dog in Silver Spring one day about 15 years ago when a tiny kitten raced out of the nearby woods and threw himself at me. I brought him home, but knew we could not add a pet to the family. So, of course, a church member adopted him. And, about two years ago, a lovely older kitten appeared on our doorstep and flatly refused to leave. We took care of him, fed him, got him neutered – and he is happily living with Jane and Janet Krasnican. Some things come full circle!
And, just a few years back, before Tom, Carolyn and Lora Jones moved south, I learned about Lora and her deep love for animals. She was in high school at the time and wanting to find a way to earn some money that involved pets. So, Lora and her Mom and I sat down together and put together an informal business plan. She became almost too popular too quickly as a pet sitter and had to turn business away – she clearly has a way with animals. Some of you here at Bradley Hills used her services and really hated to see her move away.
I just heard from her Mom yesterday. Lora recently adopted a large, mixed breed dog named Georgia. The dog had been returned to the Humane Society, was there for 3 months, and Lora could not resist her. Her Mom says that Georgia has rescued them and loves them and they all love her. Caroline and Lora and their dog have just passed a therapy dog evaluation and will start visiting challenged children this coming week.
Tom, who preached from our pulpit many times, says that we need to honor and respect and remember that they are all God’s creatures, even when they eat your best dress shoes!
There are so many church members who have a deep and abiding love of animals. Sarah and Greg Urban come to mind – she also works in the world of pet care. And while many of you think of Jean Weir and her generosity and her mastery of church floral displays – I have gotten to know her almost entirely through her love of animals. When she shared that her special cat was very ill, you could feel the depth of her love and the depth of her pain.
So, I think I will end with the story of this Sammy. When he was a puppy, he belonged to a Bethesda client of mine. He was such a tiny bully that his older brother dog was hiding away from him and not eating – so his owner sadly decided she had to give him up. Dottie, my husband’s co-worker, had just lost her ancient dog, so she agreed to adopt him. It was a match made in heaven – so to speak – until it was not. As Dottie aged, she fell for many financial scams and ended up losing her home to foreclosure. We and others helped her move into a low cost senior living community. But, it was a bad environment for Sammy. He was not used to living in close quarters with other people and other dogs and he turned into a biter. Dottie ended up with an eviction notice on her door – either she had to find another place to live where Sammy would be welcome or Sammy had to go. She did not have the means to move, so Sammy came to live with us. As a 13 year old dog with a criminal record, his options were limited. We decided that he really needs to be blessed – so we brought him along today. Don’t worry, we will make sure that he does not bite! So, God bless Dottie and all the others in this world who have to give up pets when they do not want to – and God bless every one of you and your pets and this little Sammy.