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02 December 2011

Dog Love

Readers know my feelings on dogs.

I'm glad to see there's a priest out there who agrees:


At St. Patrick's Cathedral, a dog owned by Msgr. Robert Ritchie joins Jesus, Mary and Joseph in Christmas creche

Statue of yellow Lab beloved by Ritchie comes from Italy to be part of holiday tradition

BY Samantha Snowden & Corky Siemaszko
NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Friday, December 2 2011, 7:44 AM
Msgr. Robert Ritchie, the Rector of St. Patrick's Cathedral, places Lexington II, the first representation of a dog in the St. Patrick's Cathedral Nativity Scene in over 30 years, in the cathedral's creche scene. Lexington II was modeled after Ritchie's 15-year-old dog, Lexington.
Jefferson Siegel/Jefferson Siegel for News

Msgr. Robert Ritchie, rector of St. Patrick's Cathedral, places statue of his beloved dog, Lexington, in the Nativity scene alongside Jesus, Mary and Joseph.
This is a Christmas story about a priest and his dog — and it is the heartwarming tale of this year’s holiday season.
It began shortly before Christmas 15 years ago, when a yellow Lab puppy nuzzled and licked the hand of Msgr. Robert Ritchie in a Manhattan pet shop.
And now, Ritchie, rector of famed St. Patrick’s Cathedral, has given his beloved pup a near sacred honor — placing a statue of the dog beside the figures of Jesus, Mary and Joseph in the sanctuary’s Christmas crèche.
While the Gospels make no mention of pooches in the manger on the first Christmas, Ritchie said it makes perfect sense to place the likeness near statues of a sheep, donkey, ox and camel.
“Didn’t the shepherds have dogs to help herd the sheep?” the clergyman said with a smile.
Two weeks before Christmas 15 years ago, Ritchie was heartbroken over the death of a previous dog when he reached down to pet a puppy at a now-defunct shop on Lexington Ave.
“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.”
A decade and a half later, Lexington now weighs 86 pounds, has a love for “any cookie from Petco” and is a faithful member of the St. Patrick’s flock. He’s a hit with the other priests, and Ritchie takes him every morning and night on long walks through the upper East Side. “My secretary gives him a lot of treats behind my back,” Ritchie joked.
Ritchie is in charge of the cathedral’s Nativity scene — and for years has felt something was missing. “I was in two parishes before I came here where they had dogs in their crèches,” he said. “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.’ ”
Ritchie reached out to the Demetz Art Studio in Ortisei, Italy, where the figures of Jesus, Mary, Joseph and other parts of the crèche were lovingly carved out of wood. They just happened to have a dog statue already carved, although it wasn’t an exact match for Lexington.
“It was a golden retriever,” Ritchie said. “Lexington is a yellow Lab. But the man from the studio happened to be coming to New York and saw Lexington and liked his coloring.”
Which explains why the 25-inch statue that Ritchie dubbed “Lexington II” and personally placed into St. Pat’s crèche on Thursday is also honey brown and white — not yellow.
Ritchie said that when Lexington first saw his doggie doppelganger “he came over and gave it a sniff, a lick on the nose and then kind of ignored him.”
When asked if he has plans to add a cat to the crèche, Ritchie laughed and said no. “I’m a dog man,” he said.
Churchgoers gave mixed reviews to the newest addition at St. Patrick’s.
“I was a little surprised to see a dog in there,” said 28-year-old Emily Moore of Manhattan. “I’ve never heard of a dog being in a Nativity scene before. Doesn’t really make sense.”
Ethan Furman, 32, of Manhattan disagreed. “I think it makes sense,” she argued. “Jesus was a kind-hearted person, so why wouldn’t he have grown up with a golden retriever? It fits. It’s not like he would have had a Rottweiler.”

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