Well, what do you know?
Apparently there is a time and a place for just about everything and, in the field of news, that even includes the use of "scare quotes." Surf here for some discussions of the meaning of this hot-button term in modern semi-opinion journalism.
Now, anyone who has visited this blog more than two or three times probably knows that your GetReligionistas are not fond of "scare quotes" around religious terms that have perfectly fine, established meanings, thank you very much. Most of the battles right now, of course, are about religious liberty vs. "religious liberty." Oh, and "traditional marriage" is another one.
However, in this case I am going to argue (wait for it) that the Washington Post team probably needed to use scare quotes in the Health & Science feature that ran with this headline: "There’s a dog at this funeral home, ready to pray with you."
Come to think of it, I would have put quote marks around a specific term in that headline. See if you can figure out which one, after looking at the overture:
“Lulu, say a prayer,’’ Matthew Fiorillo tells his 2½ -year-old goldendoodle. Hearing the command, Lulu, a therapy dog who comforts mourners at Ballard-Durand Funeral & Cremation Services in Westchester County, N.Y., puts her paws up onto the kneeler and tilts her head down.
“She’s an added source of comfort,’’ says Fiorillo, who owns the business. “She has a calming presence. She’s a social dog who loves people and has great instincts. She’ll curl up into a ball and lay down next to an older person, or jump around with kids. She especially helps the children, since not all of them understand death.’’
Now, I don't want to get too literal about this, but what does it mean when a newspaper report states as a kind of a light-hearted fact that this dog says "prayers" with people? What does the term "prayer" even mean in that context?
By the way, I also think the term "comfort dog" (I've heard that term used in nursing homes) makes more sense than "therapy dog," but maybe someone who knows the parameters of current definitions of "therapy" can help us out with that. If it's relaxing and comforting to embrace a dog under these painful circumstances, is that a form of "therapy" or is it just therapeutic?
But back to the real subject -- prayer.
Let me add that my late father spent a decade of his ministry as a hospital chaplain, so maybe I'm a bit of a literalist when dealing with topics linked the death, dying and grief. Come to think of it, does this funeral home actually have chaplains associated with it, or just Lulu the dog?
This cute "prayer" move, by the way, was not something that came naturally for Lulu.
Fiorillo says Lulu, who was bred and trained in Florida by a breeder who also taught her the praying trick, joined him when she was a year old. She goes to work with him every day (except Wednesday, her day off.). She wears a vest, imprinted with the funeral home’s logo, that says “Pet me, I’m friendly.’’
“When the vest goes on, she’s in comfort mode. She’ll be, like, ‘Somebody needs me, let’s go,’ ” Fiorillo says. “When the vest comes off, she’s just a playful puppy.’’
So the dog's bow-your-head and fold-your-paws move is a "praying trick." Noted. Does Lulu prostrate and do special prayers for Muslim clients?
Ok, Ok. Does anyone out there -- especially journalists -- have a proposal for how to capture what this dog does, or seems to do, without using religious language that describes actions that religious people believe are real, as opposed to tricks? Is there a more respectful way to describe all of this?
Just asking. I'm sort of serious about this. I am sure a few readers looked at this and said to themselves: "That's cute. But is prayer just a trick?"