The Faith Of Dogs

by Anna Cooke

When his beloved dog Chalky became old and frail, Andrew Heyes and the dog’s veterinarian both knew it was time. Chalky and Andrew had lived together in England for nearly 20 years. “We, the doctor and I, both cried about it. As far as I was concerned, Chalky was to be my last-ever dog. Ever!” said Andrew. “I just didn’t ever want to feel that wretched emptiness again.”

A couple of months later, Andrew received a phone call from the same veterinarian. A stray dog was brought in by police after being hit by a car. “He’s in very bad shape—starved and weak. Normally I’d pass him on to the RSPCA (Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals), but he’ll take up too many resources and more than likely be put to sleep,” Dr. Duncan told Andrew.

“Okay, I’ll come over and take a look, but as I’ve said, I’m not thinking about having a dog right now,” replied Andrew, who had gotten quite comfortable with a dog-free regimen. “I needn’t be worrying about getting home to walk the dog.” Still, he collected his car keys, along with Chalky’s old collar and leash. Though his mind was not quite  committed, in his heart, the dog had already found a home.

At the veterinarian’s office, the dog, part Doberman with the markings of a Lurcher, was encouraged to walk to Andrew, doing so in fear. “When he came to me and lifted his head, I found myself looking into the most trusting, beautiful eyes I had ever seen,” said Andrew, who announced the dog’s name would be Toby. “I had no idea where the name Toby came from. It just popped into my head.”

Soon after adopting Toby, Father Andrew found himself up against a deadline as editor of his Church’s parish magazine. He had not yet written his column “From the Vicar’s Keyboard.” Drawing a complete blank about what to write, he looked down at his new canine partner and said, “Toby, I’m really stuck here. I’ve no idea what to write about. Have you any ideas?”

Father Andrew soon discovered that Toby “voice” had a different slant on the world. Toby could say things (and get away with them) that Father Andrew couldn’t. Toby and Father Andrew were together in three parishes across two continents, including the United States. Toby continued writing his column From the Dog’s Paw for the various parish publications Andrew oversaw, including The Anchor for Tampa’s St. Clement’s Episcopal Church. Toby would be the first of Father Andrew’s three dogs to receive writing credits in the parish magazines.

After Toby died in September 2008, Father Andrew adopted another Doberman. Barney was six years old and had no clue as to the legacy he was expected to follow. He was a completely untrained dog, whose favorite bad habit was counter surfing.

Where Toby was a gentleman, well-versed in the Bible, theology and world events, what could Father Andrew possibly expect of a younger, non-church-schooled dog? Well, it turns out Barney was quite prolific during the three years he and Andrew were together.

Barney’s Bytes appeared in The Anchor until his death on August 5, 2012. “He just dropped dead after our morning walk,” Andrew recalled, still affected by the memory. Barney suffered from Dilated Cardiomyopathy, a heart disease known to be common in Dobermans. “Barney was a wonderful companion, and with his friendly disposition and playfulness, the best possible ambassador for the Doberman breed,” said Father Andrew.

Heartbroken again, Father Andrew vowed, “Never, ever will I have another dog. Ever!” Father Andrew’s heart was much stronger than his mind allowed him to believe. “Deep down, I knew it would eventually happen, but I thought it would be later than sooner.”

The red Doberman was only around a year old when he was found wandering in Miami, and picked up by the police. He was placed with Doberman Rescue of Lake Placid, where he lived for several months. The rescue group named him Toby. 

“When I met him, it was clear he had been traumatized. He was afraid of everything and had scars from cigarette burns on his body. His tail had been badly docked, causing him discomfort as well,” Andrew said. They drove home together that same day.

In a December 2012 column for The Anchor, Father Andrew wrote, “He will not be a Toby or a Barney. He will be Winston, a dog whose character will be as unique as each of ours. What his voice will be I do not yet know. We can be sure that, having just come from Doby-puppyhood and now being in the Doby-adolescent phase, Winston might have an attitude many parents of teenagers might recognize. At least he won’t ask to borrow the car.” Winston’s column was named Words of Winston.

What Father Andrew loves about the Doberman is their independence. “They just don’t seem to care. And, they’re really goofy as well as loyal,” he said. “Dogs are a conduit, especially in instances where people are troubled by something and want to talk, but are uncomfortable doing so,” added Father Andrew. “I noticed, early on, people would talk to the dog. If I responded, they would shut down. So, I kept quiet, and let them continue talking to the dog.”

Father Andrew added, “Having a dog in one’s life teaches many things, but perhaps the greatest lessons are to do with how to live one’s life, and also how to die. Even now, when I remember my faithful companions, I still feel the ache of loss. Reason tells me that this is natural, because they have shorter lives. Reason also tells me that the easy way to avoid such heartache is by simply not having the cause of it in my life. Oh, I have tried, but my ‘success’ has always been short-term. My love of the four-legged fur ball who makes demands on me, ultimately trumps the loss I know I shall one day feel.”

Father Andrew Heyes was born near Manchester, England in a town called Hyde. Growing up, he was lead singer and guitarist in a local rock band. Eventually he attended college to earn an honors degree in Theology and Religious Studies, then undertook post-graduate studies in theology which led to his ordination in the Church of England. He arrived at St. Clement’s Episcopal Church in Tampa in November 2006, became an American citizen in 2013 and continues to play guitar. Winston continues to assist with the Church’s magazine. He and Father Andrew take multiple breaks throughout the day just to enjoy nature across St. Clement’s campus. Father Andrew can often be heard saying, “There are no such things as coincidences. Only God-incidences.”

Author: THE NEW BARKER

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