Louisiana rescue dog boosts morale at Yankton Monastery | Louisiana News
By RANDY DOCKENDORF, Yankton Press and Dakotan
YANKTON, SD (AP) — The newest member of Sacred Heart Monastery crawls and begs for food. She also likes to be scratched behind her ears and walk on a leash.
In short, she leads a dog’s life.
It’s Lexi, a purebred Yorkshire Terrier that some call the “monastery mascot.” The dog, who will turn 4 this spring, arrived last October to live with the 69 Benedictine Sisters on the hill overlooking the Missouri River.
Lexi brought joy to the nuns, but she also found happiness after living a difficult life and being transported hundreds of miles to South Dakota.
“We call her Lexi, the rescue dog, because she was rescued after Hurricane Ida in Louisiana,” Sister Maribeth Wentzlaff said, referring to the major storm from August 26 to September 26. 4, 2021.
The match went quickly.
“When there was the hurricane in Louisiana, the dogs had to go to shelters,” Sister Maribeth said. “When the shelters were flooded, the dogs needed someone to rescue them. What a great game when an animal can find a place that truly cares.
While the match went quickly, it was the answer to a long-standing prayer among the nuns, especially Sister Maribeth, Yankton Press and Dakotan reported.
“I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease last July, so I had read a lot about how dogs or other animals help people with Parkinson’s disease calm tremors and jerks,” said she declared.
“I have wanted a dog for a long time. I kept in contact with Heartland Humane Society to be in search of a dog. But it had to be a certain type that did not shed, preferably a female and not only a new puppy.
Then came the unexpected call. A Sioux Falls animal shelter learned it would be receiving a shipment of displaced dogs from Louisiana, and officials wondered if the nuns were still interested and able to take any of the incoming dogs.
“Heartland Humane Society was going to get 300 rescue dogs from Louisiana, so they contacted all of their local shelters, including the one here in Yankton,” Sister Maribeth said.
“The dogs would arrive in Sioux Falls in four or five days. They had a healthy dog for us and were going to bring him to the monastery.
The nuns were delighted to welcome the Yorkie, which recalls Saint Francis of Assisi and his love for animals. And in a manner befitting the monastery, the nuns named the dog Lexi – after a prayer known as Lectio (lexy-o) Divina.
The prayer can be recited by anyone and combines Bible readings and reflection, Sister Maribeth said.
“You pray and ponder whatever comes to you, wisdom or insight,” she said. “And here Lexi was someone who could teach us some wisdom because we learn a lot from dogs and other animals. They give us unconditional love, and they just bring out happiness and joy in all of us. .
Before arriving, Lexi was hit by a car which broke her pelvis and required surgery, Sister Maribeth said.
But the nun thinks Lexi was hurt in other ways.
“Lexi has been a real lightener for people. They can’t wait to see her, and she loves the attention,” the nun said. “I honestly think she was abused when she was young. She wasn’t in a family that really cared about her and loved her. Now she is learning to trust. She has a lot of people around her at once.
Sister Margo Tschetter saw many of the same signs that the dog was abused in the past.
“I really think she was abused by a man at some point, so she has a hard time with the male employees (at the monastery),” she said. “Some of them can visit and pet her, while others don’t want anything to do with them.”
The sisters knew the dog would face a major transition living among the 69 nuns, along with monastery employees and visitors. The nuns formed a team to plan for the dog’s arrival and the care needed.
The nuns knew that the dog could not be allowed in the dining hall or certain other areas. Additionally, the dog would need someone to look after her, feed her, walk her, and make sure she receives general care.
At first, Lexi was accommodated in the main section of the care center (infirmary or nursing home). However, the center created too much activity and stimulation for the newly arrived dog.
After reconsidering the situation, the nuns made Sister Margo’s room the dog’s house during the day and Sister Maribeth’s room the dog’s house at night. Lexi was free to come and go, and nuns came to visit.
“It stabilized Lexi a lot more,” Sister Maribeth said. “And a lot of the sisters stop by Margo’s room for a ‘Lexi time’.”
Sister Margo relishes her role as “dog whisperer”.
“Lexi reminds me of when I was growing up. We have always had dogs in our home,” she said. “So when we had Lexi, it was a breath of fresh air, something different that gave some of the sisters something to do and something different to talk about.”
Canine companionship has become especially important with the pandemic entering its third year, Sister Margo said. The monastery has been closed to the public since March 13, 2020. Nuns recently opened Sunday Mass in the Bishop Marty Chapel to outside worshipers, requiring masks for everyone.
However, the recent rise of a new variant may mean a return to some of the old rules, Sister Maribeth said. “With omicron, we just had a COVID meeting and we’re tightening things up again,” she said.
With the ongoing pandemic, Lexi has boosted morale and benefited the nuns’ mental health and their need for outside socialization, Sister Margo said.
“I think it really helped all of us. A lot of places have the Eden Project where they bring animals into a place,” she said. “They found research showing that animals bring new life to those around them and give people something to look forward to.”
Lexi has been working on her socialization skills, Sister Maribeth said.
“Lexi is learning to shake hands and all sorts of other things. She is really learning the ropes,” the nun said.
After the initial shock of the arrival of weather in the Deep South, Lexi has adapted well to the South Dakota winters, Sister Margo said.
“Lexi loves going out,” the nun said. “When the sisters put on their winter coats to go out and take her for a walk, she is perfectly comfortable. I think she has a very thick undercoat.
But not always, says Sister Maribeth.
“When we had our first snow, 6 or 7 inches, it came to her chest,” the nun said. “She’s from Louisiana, and she didn’t know what to make of it. Now she raises her legs high when she walks in the snow.
Lexi has an extremely sensitive sense of smell and recognizes the different sights, sounds and smells of the sisters and where she has been taken for a walk, Sister Margo said.
The dog has even adapted to the surrounding wildlife, she added.
“The squirrels are driving her crazy, but the coyotes didn’t bother her when they howled the other night,” she says.
Lexi has brought a new dimension to monastery life, especially during a pandemic that is limiting contact with the outside world, Sister Margo said.
“It’s so satisfying to have Lexi around. I think it makes you see new life in a different way, and I think COVID has a lot to do with it,” she said. “You get (69) people living together, that’s one thing, but having the animal makes things completely different. They also need to be cared for and to be housed, fed and loved.
Sister Maribeth agrees, noting that the dog has boosted morale, including hers.
“When I look at Lexi I wonder what rescue dogs have to go through to find a forever home, what it must be like for her to finally feel safe and in a place where she doesn’t need ‘to be afraid of losing her at home,’ says the nun
Sister Maribeth thinks the new member of the monastery has made life better.
“It’s so comforting for me to have a different type of companion where she learns new tricks and there’s always something different with her,” the nun said.
“Yet at night she has her own bed right next to my bed. You can fall asleep and both of you will have that feeling of peace and rest.
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