Man's Best Friends Illuminate a Spiritual Mission
by Ward Miele, Managing Editor

Beloved Pets Touch Heart of Deacon's Faithful Work

Deacon Joseph Dwyer enjoys a happy moment with his close friends Greta, Rommel and Spartacus at his home in Nutley. Deacon Dwyer shared fond memories of two special dogs-Fritz and Harrison-that have had a major impact on his spiritual life. Pictured in the lower right corner of the photo is a statue of Saint Francis of Assisi, traditionally known as the patron saint of animals.

NEWARK-Ever since his childhood, Deacon Joseph A. Dwyer Jr., vice chancellor for administration in the Archdiocese of Newark, has had an abiding compassion and respect for all of God's creatures-deep feelings that have inspired his religious life and spiritual work.

A board member of Catholic Concern for Animals (CCA), Deacon Dwyer frequently speaks on compassionate stewardship, has authored and delivered numerous animal-centric homilies and conducts animal blessings on the Feast of Saint Francis of Assisi. He is also a certified veterinary technician.

His lifelong commitment to animals began with a dachshund named Fritz. Deacon Dwyer, an only child, had a skin allergy and his doctor said the only type of dog he could have was a shorthaired breed.

Reflecting fondly on those early years from his third-floor corner office at the Archdiocesan Center, Deacon Dwyer described Fritz, and the three dogs he has today, as providing him with the blessing of "unconditional love."

In fact, he explained, Fritz had an important role in his decision to become a deacon. Convinced God sent Fritz to him when at a crucial time in his life, Deacon Dwyer, as a child, first learned about "unselfish service" from Fritz-a pet he called "God's special messenger. Fritz inspired me to become a deacon and serve God's people."

Right now the Dwyer abode in Nutley is the happy home of two dachshunds-Greta and Rommel-and a beagle/dachshund mix named Spartacus, who Deacon Dwyer rescued from a shelter a day before he was to be euthanized. Deacon Dwyer has had Spartacus for 18 months and is dealing with "separation-anxiety issues" that find his newest canine companion following him everywhere he goes.

Deacon Dwyer is convinced that pets are sent to people by God "for a reason." The bond with animals, he stressed, is "intuitive. (It is) similar to the bond among humans." As such, his commitment to animals is an important part of his busy life. For example, Deacon Dwyer recently visited Best Friends Animal Society in Kanab, UT, a 33,000-acre facility that takes in all types of animals in distress. Last summer he coauthored a religions proclamation for the group that was read before Congress last November. Terming any type of animal abuse as "tragic," Deacon Dwyer emphasized that in the Catechism of the Catholic Church comes the call and commitment "to cause no undue suffering to any animal."

For Deacon Dwyer, that commitment includes volunteering-most often Saturday mornings at the Bloomfield Animal Shelter, located at 61 Bukowski Pl. (adjacent to the Garden State Parkway). The facility typically houses between 30 and 40 "mostly abandoned" dogs and cats, Deacon Dwyer said. Part of that group, he laments, includes Pit Bulls that had been used in dog fighting. Deacon Dwyer usually walks the dogs and interacts with all the animals.

He recalled with special poignancy one of those interaction experiences. It took place last December and involved an aging Siberian Husky that the shelter staff had named "Harrison," because the animal was found wandering on Harrison Street in Nutley.

Learning that Harrison would have to be euthanized due to agerelated illnesses, Deacon Dwyer spent the afternoon before the procedure to comfort and simply be with the dog. The profound experience, he confessed, had a powerful impact on his life and work with other animals.

The United States branch of CCA was established three years ago with the mission to "promote compassion for all of God's creatures." The group traces its long history to its founding in England in 1929.

Within the United States, CCA has targeted the plight of animals in agriculture, the fur industry, hunting, entertainment as well as scientific and medical research. Deacon Dwyer stressed that, of the funds raised by CCA, 75 percent goes to people with pets and often their children. He placed emphasis on the fact that, working through CCA, veterinarians have not turned down any pet owners needing medical treatment for their pets.

As part of his religious outreach, Deacon Dwyer also is involved with The Animals and Religion Network Community, an affiliated group of Best Friends Animal Society, which combines the work of members from a broad spectrum of faith traditions. The Animals and Religion Network provides information and resource material for religious organizations that illustrate the spiritual connection with animals and how this connection can be better understood and embraced in religious circles.

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