My rating: 4 of 5 stars
One of my favorite saints of the Church is St. Francis of Assisi because of his humanity, compassion, sweet nature, and his love of animals with whom he is believed to communicate based upon the story of his converting the Wolf of Gubbio to a tamed animal. The story goes that while living in the city of Gubbio around 1220, St Francis volunteered to take leave and meet a ferocious wolf who devastated the country by attacking people and livestock. When St. Francis finally met the wolf, instead of punishing him for the offenses, he gently admonished the wolf to cause no more plight to the people and the livestock and promised him that he would be fed daily by the people of the city. The wolf was grateful for the compassionate promise and put his front paw on the saint’s hand as a gesture of accepting the advice. Thereafter, the Wolf of Gubbio kept his promise with the saint and became a tamed pet animal of the city.
With this evocative image in mind of the gentle saint and the tamed wolf I had once seen on a prayer card, I selected to read this book by Monks of Skete of the Eastern Orthodox Church. In this regard, I was piqued by the facts that (1) these monks were reputable German Shepherd breeders and acclaimed canine-human relationship teachers; and that (2) the monks lived with the dogs in accordance with the teachings of the Gospel manifested in their healthy relationship with the dogs. However, the monks of Skete carefully avoid religious jargon in the book lest the book should be interpreted as a promotion of their faith. Instead, their faith is carefully incorporated into the belief of fostering their ideas about dogs with a philosophical and spiritual foundation for personal change because dogs mirror who we are by responding to the way we treat them without deception.
The gem of this book is the monks’ views on salubrious human-canine relationship as appreciation of truths of the two worlds: one world of our own human prowess as a caretaker and one world of their own pristine nature as a guide to the wondrous natural world from which we have gradually distanced. While we provide them with food, shelter, and veterinarian care, dogs enable us to appreciate the beauty, the warmth, and the compassion that are deeply rooted in our humanity we often overlook or even try to suppress in the face of existential dilemma. In consideration of the aforesaid, I believe that the story of St. Francis of Assisi and the Wolf of Gubbio is not a myth but a truth.