HARTFORD – ’Twas right before Christmas 2004 when a sad and scrawny dog was about to become the star in a Christmas story at the Cathedral of St. Joseph.
Just another abandoned dog of indiscriminate age and lineage, she was injured, cold and scared. Her prospects were dim after being chained to a fence on church property on Asylum Avenue sometime during the night. But she was about to receive a Christmas miracle. She was found in the morning by employees arriving for work at the daycare center within the former St. Joseph Cathedral School.
Today, more than 10 years later, her many friends claim that this dog had a guardian angel of her own. Her tale of shared love is a heartwarming one as told by her rescuers, cathedral sacristan Peter Turczanik and plant manager Mark Fluckiger, who responded from the boiler room when those who found her called for help for an injured dog.
The two men’s memories are vivid as they express their surprise and delight at the good nature of their now-longtime buddy. They say she was “skin and bones” and obviously hungry and hurting when they carried her into the warmth of their workplace, the massive boiler room behind the cathedral. Despite her sorry condition, they remember fondly how she took her first meal gently from their hands and, as both recall, with a very certain dog dignity, humility and gratitude that won their hearts.
The men had had another resident boiler room dog that had disappeared two years before. Before her, the “shop dog” for a decade was Queenie, a German shepherd who had since passed away. They agreed to help this new arrival back to health and, if the boss allowed, to hearth and home.
The dog was quickly approved for residency by the cathedral’s then-rector, Msgr. Robert Bergin, and taken to a veterinarian; generous donations by cathedral staff members would pay the bill.
While undergoing a few weeks’ veterinary care, the patient was identified as a young, possibly one-year-old female pit bull with a favorable prognosis and who was now in need of a name for the veterinarian’s records. Mr. Turczanik, then working in the plant facility, came up with the name Angel from the’80s oldie “Angel of the Morning” that he’d recently been listening to.
Her rescuers say she was filled-out and happy when she went home to the boiler room for the first time, a different dog in appearance but with the same sweet disposition that has never changed since.
Over the years, Angel’s reputation has spread within the cathedral parish. On weekdays she is on duty with a guard in the often-busy parking lot behind the cathedral or else with maintenance staff at her station by the big back door of the cathedral’s boiler room.
A group of Aetna Insurance Co. employees regularly leaves Angel treats on a small ledge near her main duty station.
For years, Angel’s been spoiled, many admit. She’s never alone. The boiler room has staff on maintenance-and-security duty around the clock. Special visitors are also among Angel’s favorite guests.
One day not long after his December 2013 installation, Archbishop Leonard P. Blair paid an impromptu visit to Angel in the boiler room while en route through the parking lot with Father Jeffrey V. Romans, his former secretary and assistant chancellor, to the nearby offices of Catholic Charities. As recounted by cathedral staff who were on hand, Archbishop Blair and Angel exchanged pleasantries.
Not everyone elicits the same reaction.
There’s a story told about the night a guard came across glass from a broken window and possible intruder in the lower cathedral. When the guard entered, shouting that he had a dog, immediately from the depths came an imploring version of the line, “Don’t let the dogs out!” The visitor took off. Angel on duty; job done.
Angel has exercise areas right outside her boiler plant home in the small garden area beside the cathedral, where she vainly chases an elusive rabbit. On these excursions, she often greets friends and fans among parishioners; local residents; workers and employees of local businesses or church-related ministries and organizations; and vendors, some of whom who have come to love her.
Angel has regular weekend retreats with the family and pets of cathedral staff worker Virginia (Ginny) Abel, who donated a cozy couch that’s just inside the boiler room entry. She also has given Angel a number of warm doggie hoodies and a collection of collars.
Although it is rumored that Angel’s wardrobe colors follow the liturgical calendar, that is not the case. The jury is still out on the rumor that Angel’s become a Catholic guard dog by way of Mr. Turczanik’s Polish and Catholic lineage.
It’s a dog’s life at the cathedral.