St. Rocco, Patron Saint of Dogs

Published in Highlights
August 16th is the feast of St. Rocco, the patron saint of dogs.
St. Rocco is also known as St. Roch, among other variations to the name, and in Croatia he is Sv. Rok or Roko.

Apparently his life was spent healing the sick, especially victims of the plagues which raged around Europe in the 14th century. It is thought he was born in 1348, although many sources put the year as 1295, and he died somewhere between 1376 and 1379, although some versions put his death as early as 1327. He was born in Montpellier into a noble family. He carried a birthmark of a reddened cross on his chest. He was designated to succeed his father as Governor of Montpellier, but instead renounced his worldly goods on his parents' death and travelled to Rome as a mendicant pilgrim, just as St. Francis of Assisi had in the early partof the 13th century. Many towns he passed through were ravaged by various diseases generally termed 'plague', and Rocco gained a reputation for healing the sick.

Eventually he fell ill himself in Piacenza, and went into retreat in some woodland. The story goes that he would have died but for a hunting dog who brought him bread to sustain him, licked his wounds to heal them, and led his master, Count Gothard Palastrelli, to the sick Rocco. The count looked after him and became his follower. Rocco returned to Montpellier, but was imprisoned as a spy. He was canonized by Pope Gregory XIV in the 16th century, and is not only the patron saint of dogs, victims of plague epidemics and pilgrims, but also of people suffering from knee problems or skin diseases, invalids, surgeons, gravediggers, diseased cattle, tile-makers, second-hand dealers and apothecaries.

As well as Istanbul, St. Rocco is the patron saint of Stari Grad on Hvar Island, which always celebrates his feast day with numerous joyful cultural events. On the night of 13th - 14th August 2014, as a tragic preparation for the feast, seven dogs were poisoned in Stari Grad, a mother and her six puppies. They were killed because they had the misfortune to be born in the wrong place, at the wrong time to the wrong owner. The story is a sad one, but by no means unique on Hvar. The owner did not have adequate conditions for keeping dogs; he failed to sterilize the bitch he owned; she had a large litter; mother and puppies had insufficent space, poor hygienic conditions, and too little food and water. The neighbours complained, and wanted the dogs removed. Some local people tried to help out by caring for the dogs and feeding them as best they could. The dog rescue organization 'Azil Aurora' from Omiš, which is a charitable volunteer group for saving stray and unwanted dogs, and finding homes for them, was also involved. But someone in the neighbourhood decided that killing the dogs was the easiest and quickest way to solve the problem. There is a law for animal protection in Croatia, as in other European countries. Now the matter is in the hands of the police, and we hope they will take action to identify and prosecute the perpetrators.

Dogs are called 'man's best friend' with good reason. Children can learn a lot of useful social lessons by looking after and training dogs; dogs are good company for the lonely, and especially the disabled; guide dogs are invaluable to the blind; dogs can help the disabled with everyday tasks; sniffer dogs can uncover hidden drugs or bodies, track criminals on the run; and protect their owners from harm. Above all, dogs are loyal and loving pets who provide rich rewards for anyone who cares for them.

Humans and animals do not deserve to be killed, especially not in inhumane, cruel and painful ways. This sad incident is yet another example of how urgently the animal shelter is needed on Hvar. Our Eco Hvar project is taking shape, but very slowly. We hope that all the local authorities on the island will be spurred by the nationwide public condemnation of the dog poisonings to take an active part in ensuring that the home is founded in the shortest possible time.

© Vivian Grisogono 2014

With thanks to Mirko Crnčević, reporter for 'Slobodna Dalmacija', for his collaboration on this article.

 

 
 
 
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