Nativity scenes usually have a donkey and an ox, but not a golden retriever. However, a New York City priest wanted to honor his pooch by putting a statue of it next to baby Jesus, even if the gospel did not mention anything about dogs.
Besides, “Didn’t the shepherds have dogs to help herd the sheep?” said Msgr. Robert Ritche, with a smile, reported the New York Daily News. Ritchie is the rector at the famed St. Patrick's Cathedral in downtown NYC.
The honored dog, “Lexington,” a 15-year-old yellow lab, was purchased as a sort of consolation for Ritchie, who was heartbroken over the death of his previous dog, which he had for 10 years.
“I had just lost a dog who had been with me for 10 years and I swore I wouldn’t get another,” he recalled. “But my best friend dragged me to the store and said, ‘We’re getting you another’.”
The little Lab was full of love. “He licked my hand, and I was smitten,” the monsignor said. “He’s named after the street.”
Although dogs are not thought of as a vital part of the church, Ritchie claims that they are more common than people realize, saying that he had been at two parishes prior to becoming the rector at St. Patrick's that each had dogs. “And when I was in Rome last January I was in two churches where they had dogs. So I said, ‘St. Patrick’s had to have a dog’.”
Although Lexington is a yellow lab and the dog in the nativity scene is a golden retriever; that is only because a golden retriever is what was available at the Demetz Art Studio in Ortisei, Italy, which carves nativity figures out of wood. With a touch of paint, however, “Lexington II” as the statute is called was able to look more like the original Lexington.
Despite the accuracy of whether or not a dog was at the birth of Christ, it might be fitting to have more animals in the nativity scene, if only a tribute to the creator of the first nativity scene.
According to CatholicEducation.org, St. Francis of Assisi created the first nativity scene in 1223 after he realized the local chapel would be too small to hold the town of Roman town of Grecio's entire congregation.
In addition, St. Francis is also known as the saint of the animals, because of the many stories about his deep love for all of God's creatures. One of the most famous accounts of his love for animals is the story of the wolf.
According to legend, a wolf was terrorizing a small village – not only killing animals but people, as well. Any time a village would go out to try and kill the wolf, the wolf would get the better of him. When St. Francis heard about this, he decided he would go out and tame the wolf. The villagers warned against it, but St. Francis was confident that Christ would protect him.
St. Francis and a small crew went out to the woods to meet the wolf, but when the wolf saw them, he charged at them. However, St. Francis simply made the sign of the cross and “the power of God caused the wolf to slow down and to close its mouth,” according to AmericanCatholic.org.
Then Francis called out to the creature: “Come to me, Brother Wolf. In the name of Christ, I order you not to hurt anyone.” At that moment the wolf lowered its head and lay down at St. Francis’ feet, meek as a lamb.
St. Francis explained to the wolf that he had been terrorizing the people, killing not only animals, but humans who are made in the image of God. “Brother Wolf,” said Francis, “I want to make peace between you and the people of Gubbio. They will harm you no more and you must no longer harm them. All past crimes are to be forgiven.”
The wolf showed its assent by moving its body and nodding its head. Then to the absolute surprise of the gathering crowd, Francis asked the wolf to make a pledge. As St. Francis extended his hand to receive the pledge, so the wolf extended its front paw and placed it into the saint’s hand. Then Francis commanded the wolf to follow him into town to make a peace pact with the townspeople. The wolf meekly followed St. Francis.
The "pact" was that the wolf would not harm anybody anymore and that the people would feed him. Both the wolf and the village people honored the pact and lived in harmony with each other until the wolf died of old age.