Dogs & Devotion by The Monks of New Skete

Reviewed by Molly Martin

Dogs & Devotion:
A Celebration of the bond Between Dogs and their People
by The Monks of New Skete
Hardcover: 96 pages, ISBN-13: 978-1401322960

The connection we have with the animal world, especially with our dogs, have an important role to play in our growth and self-understanding.  Dogs & Devotion is a small book measuring just under 7 inches square and having only 96 pages filled with wonderful black and white, full page photos and text offered in clear, easy to read manner.

The Monks of New Skete train various types of pups, however their focus is the German Shepherd, a breed the monks believe have taught them many important lessons about life and about themselves. Via the New Skete communities; German Shepherds are bred, raised as companion animals in a homelike setting and are trained to be companions for those hoping for a Shepherd to share their life.

Some of the beliefs held by the community are shared in this small work with the readings provided in the form of meditations the Monks hope will lead the reader to a more abundant life.

While there is no Table of Contents each meditation is presented as a two page spread having a Bible verse, or other quote, a premise as a single word or a short phrase and a paragraph or two of text to expand the premise. In general one of the two pages will be a full leaf devoted to a dog. Some of the pictured pups are German Shepherds, often the Shepherd showcased is of the ones living with the Monks in their upstate New York, near the Vermont border, monastery.

While each 2 page spread features one or more canine wonders, I particularly enjoyed reading the pages featuring Shepherds. Husband and I do not buy dogs, however, over the last nearly 3 decades we have taken in a diversity of those hoping for a forever home.

Leika, a lovely, well-mannered little Shepherd lady came to us nearly starved, left behind, but very loving and willing to forgive the mistakes of others and live out her life with us. Shepherds have long been close to our hearts.

Page 7 features 3 of the New Skete Shepherds with their people and proffers the notion: perhaps one of the reasons we are so devoted to our dogs is that they help us become who we’re supposed to be.

Page 15 shows 2 dogs , 1 a Shepherd, and asks is there anything more irresistible than a dog soliciting play?

Page 26-27 presents a Monk playing with his Shepherd. The Happy Dog is the premise of this meditation: Dogs place such modest conditions on their happiness.

The Shepherd displayed on page 43 is alert, ears are in listening stance and for all appearances this pup seems to be smiling above the premise Legacy and Longevity: One secret of deepening any sort of relationship with our dogs is giving them time to develop and age.

The two page spread featuring a Monk and his Shepherd seen on pages 44 -45 presents a timely: Premise Honoring Relationships. In a fractured world of broken relationships dogs can teach us the meaning of devotion and fidelity.

Pages 58 – 59 again exhibits one of the New Skete Shepherds with his/her person and forwards the perception: it may seem surprising to associate faith with our bond with a dog, but truly it’s an essential component.

Pages 62 -63 showcases another of the New Skete Shepherds along with his/her person. Premise: Grace. Think “dog” and what spontaneously arises in the mind is most often the loyalty and devotion they express towards us, sometimes in the most remarkable of circumstances.

The smiling Shepherd found on pages 64 -65 helps illustrate the Premise Dogs are Awesome. Precisely because dogs are so common in our society, we may overlook how awesome they are as a species.

Page 74 -75 presents the premise Connection: At a time when human nature is being stretched by all sorts of competing pressures, the presence of dogs in our lives helps to keep us sane and balanced. The smiling Monk and his 2 grinning Shepherds seem to epitomize the notion.

The tender love of a not entirely repentant dog is seen with the graphic found on page 82 as a Shepherd and his person bond. Dogs have few scruples about expressing sorrow and respect.

The work culminates with a note regarding our duty to our dog: The Final Step. One of the most serious responsibilities we assume when caring for a dog is developing the wisdom to know when to help them end their lives dignity.

This particular meditation is one playing out for us at this time, and the narrative is one I will read and reread. Having taken in dogs and cats for nearly 30 years finds us now facing the harsh reality that some of our feline companions are nearing 30 years old, while our 2 remaining canine are greying as are we.

Page 94 features a small note regarding the Monks of New Skete along with a nice photo of three of them along with three of those beautiful Shepherds.

I enjoyed reading this book for review, it is nicely presented, helps fund the work carried out by the New Skete communities, is well written and filled with wonderful photographs of dogs, dogs, dogs.  This book is perfect as a tuck in gift, for the graduate, Father’s Day, or any day you want to honor. Dog lovers are sure to enjoy the book whether they meditate or not, those who do practice meditation will find much to enjoy.

Reviewed by: molly martin
20+ years classroom teacher