Adverts: 0161 709 4576 - Editorial: 0161 709 4571
Mail Order: 0161 709 4578 - Subs: 0161 709 4575 - Webteam: 0161 709 4567
Waiting list for monks’ dogs
- with a bit of BSL thrown in

A REMOTE COMMUNITY of Orthodox monks who breed pedigree German shepherd dogs has been overwhelmed by would-be owners. The nine monks of the New Skete monastery in upstate New York have closed their waiting list for buyers and can no longer respond to requests from the public.

The puppies sell for £1000 each and the breeding bitches which produce them live with the monks in their cells. At one stage dogs also attended church, although eventually they were banned for snoring during services!

The monks' best-selling books and videos on training the animals have made them stars but their fame also threatened to distract the monks from the contemplative life that is their calling.

Brother Christopher, the head trainer, said: "Thanks to the popularity of the books there was a risk that people see us as some sort of dog Disneyland. They thought we breed dogs by the truckload."

Another monk, Brother Elias, said: "We encountered difficulties because people forgot that we are a monastery, not a kennels with some monks attached. We have to keep the numbers of dogs down to a manageable size so that they don't become the be-all and end-all of our lives."

The monks were also afraid that, given the huge demand for their puppies, they would end up compromising on the quality of their breeding programme. Nonetheless they still run three- or four-week residential courses for all breeds, at £640 per animal. Each dog gets one-to-one training from a monk.

The New Skete monastery is set between four hills north of Albany. It has an onion-domed church and wooden buildings constructed by the monks themselves. The monks emphasise obedience, listening and respect in their training programme, as well as revising basic commands such as "heel", "sit", "stay", "down" and "come".

However, Breed Specific legislation has even found its way into the monastery. Brother Christopher will train all breeds except Pit Bull terriers, although no reason for this exclusion is given. He said: "Working with dogs sensitises you to the mystery of God's presence. Most people think of spirituality in pietistic terms of prayers and Bible studies. They don't see the sense of mystery right in front of them."

Brother Elias, who has been at the monastery, part of the Orthodox Church in America, since it opened 36 years ago, said: "To take care of an animal which is so dependent on you is a spiritual education in itself.

"Its devotion is an example of completely unreserved love."