Ever since childhood I wished to have a dog as pet and companion. My dear mother would not allow a dog in the house: she rightfully thought that eight children were enough.
My childhood wish was realized when I was appointed as pastor of St. Patrick’s parish, Phelpston, a village a few miles north of Orillia and south of Elmvale. I was there for a year from late 1975 to late 1976. The former pastor left to me his fine German Shepherd dog named Sandy.
Sandy had a more intimate relationship with the former pastor than I would permit. She had the habit of sleeping on the top of his bed and had full run of the rectory. Her usual station was a pad in the corner of the kitchen, where she was fed and watered. My first change of discipline was to have her sleep beside the bed, instead of on top of it, and then, after several weeks, to sleep on her pad in the kitchen. To do this I had to place a board preventing her from going upstairs.
Sandy was the Number One Dog in Phelpston. She proudly accompanied me each weekday to the Post Office. All other dogs kept a respectable distance. All visitors to the rectory were considered enemies until I had given approval.
Once Fr. Jim Hayes came unannounced via the open back door. He was immediately challenged by Sandy and felt her teeth on his leg as a warning signal. He told me that the dog was dangerous and that I should get rid of her. He had forgotten that once he had told me a visitor had come into his rectory without knocking and that his dog had taken the seat out of his pants. He had justified this on the theory that no one should come without knocking and that he had a good watchdog.
Some parishioners thought Sandy a bit overzealous as a watchdog and gave her the nickname “Fang.” The school was just behind the rectory and the teachers asked that I keep Sandy in the rectory when they came to school and when they left, and this I did. The weekend secretary was quite afraid of Sandy and asked that I keep the door closed into her office. On the other hand, when I had evidently approved of a visitor, Sandy was quite docile. At a parish council meeting, when there were about ten persons in the big front room, I had Sandy greet each personally. She would raise a front paw to be shaken by each in turn and bow her head, though it was obvious that this was most distasteful to her and she would much rather bark or bite.
Sandy loved to ride in the car. Whenever I used the word “car” in conversation, she would jump all over me, indicating she wanted a ride. I took her with me each Monday to make a bank deposit in Elmvale. She would run around a bit but was waiting at the car for me when I was ready to return. One day when I left the bank she was nowhere to be seen. She had gone wandering and I could not find her. I drove back to Phelpston and had her disappearance announced on the radio. The next morning I visited the school and asked the children if they had heard what happened. They answered in unison “Sandy is missing.” That afternoon a police cruiser drove up to the rectory in Phelpston, opened the door and Sandy made a beeline for the rectory. The two officers told me that Sandy had evidently spent the night sitting outside the veterinarian’s office. Sandy had a remarkable sense of location, because I had only taken her there once.
Sandy took her care of me seriously. Once I had a weekend retreat given by Fr. Jim Bennett, a Redemptorist Father. He slept in one of the spare rooms on the second floor of the very large old rectory. It had no lock on it. He rose early Sunday morning and when I joined him in the kitchen he was obviously very upset. He said he had hardly slept. Sandy, now sitting on her pad in the kitchen, looked the picture of innocence. Apparently she had jumped over the board I had placed at the foot of the stairs and was determined to examine the intruder. She nudged him in his bed and quite startled him. When he got her out she came back. He ended up with all the furniture in the room stacked against the door. This whole scenario was spread over several hours.
Every evening, I let Sandy out the back door for an hour’s exercise. As a rule she returned promptly when I opened the door an hour later. One evening she was reluctant to return. I tried to entice her with a wiener, but she grabbed the wiener and ran off. So I locked her out for the night and found her patiently waiting outside the door the next morning. She knew I was upset with her and at breakfast she came over to lick my hand, obviously begging for forgiveness.
The time came, near the end of my tenure at Phelpston, when I thought Sandy should go. A nearby parishioner offered to take her. He said she was just the kind of dog he wanted. What I did not know was that Sandy was to be a stable-dog. He already had a family dog. The comedown was too much for Sandy. When I visited the neighbour two weeks later, I was shocked to see Sandy. She had refused to eat and was down to skin and bone. I took her home and soon she was her own happy self.
The next move was Sandy’s last. A fine Catholic family, the Daniels, who lived on spacious grounds near Elmvale, offered to take her. I shall never forget the day I took her to her new home. After going to the bank in Elmvale as usual on a Monday morning, we started home. A little south of the town, instead of continuing south, we turned east towards the Daniels’ residence. As soon as I made the turn, Sandy began to moan and groan, evidently in great distress. I had never heard her react like that before. By what remarkable insight did she know that she would never return to Phelpston? Sandy was received joyously by the Daniels family and I believe she eventually felt at home there. Anytime I visited she jumped all over me in evident welcome. She never forgot the Phelpston days.
Early in 1977, I went to live for about two years in Rome. Sometime in my first year there I received the sad news that Sandy had been “put down.” She was nearly blind with age and had been much enfeebled.
So ends the realization of what I wanted as a boy: realized in My Dog Sandy.
By Msgr. Vincent Foy, Last survivor of the St. Augustine’s Seminary Class of 1939, March 31, 2010
Written for Fr. Cullen’s Ordination Class of 1952 Bulletin (Cinquante-Deux)