Pet Tales: Sister Betty's life of service and love for dogs inspires
September 6, 2019
A statue of St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals, “welcomes all two- and four-legged visitors” to a house in Chartiers City. Since 1984, the house has welcomed at least 22 foster dogs, 21 pet-sitting “house guests” and 19 dogs adopted by Elizabeth Marie Waigand, who is known as Sister Betty.
The statue is fitting for a woman who served 26 years as a Franciscan sister and has loved dogs all her life. Since 1971, she has been a member of Sisters For Christian Community, which she describes as “an ecumenical group of women dedicated to gospel living.”
At 93, Sister Betty recently welcomed another foster dog — a black Shih Tzu named Licorice [pictured here]. The elderly stray dog had been scheduled for euthanasia in a West Virginia shelter before she was taken in by Patty Murphy of Animal Advocates, a dog and cat rescue in the West End.
Sister Betty has fostered many dogs for Animal Advocates in the last 30 years, and Ms. Murphy asked if she could foster Licorice.
“I’ve had Licorice for two weeks, and we love each other very much,” Sister Betty said in a telephone interview earlier this week. “We are two old ladies who are good for each other. I’m going to adopt her.”
Her life is more than dogs. Two days a week she’s at the Jubilee Soup Kitchen in Soho, teaching 3- to 5-year-old children how to use computer tablets. She attends Mass six days a week and watches a televised service the one day she does not have a ride to church. She has an active social life with a large circle of friends.
Her long teaching career includes stints at Mount Alvernia, North Catholic and Oliver high schools. For nine years she taught English as a second language in Puerto Rico. As a Franciscan nun, she also worked six years as a medical technologist at St. Francis Hospital. She was a pet sitter, earned a dog grooming license and worked at a veterinary lab.
This year she added another occupation: author.. She has self-published a 21-page booklet titled “Dog Heart: A Memoir.” It is a compilation of prose and photographs featuring many of the dogs she has known and loved.
The memoir starts with Skippy, the white Eskimo Spitz puppy her parents got her when she was 5. “He, along with Mom and Dad and my brother, Bob, were the cause of gallons of tears, shed in homesickness, when I left home after eighth grade to start prep school in a Franciscan convent.” At Mount Alvernia in Millvale, she became Sister Alphonse Marie. Her last dog before Licorice was Belle. The pretty black and tan miniature Pinscher was brought to her by a homeless man, who said it was too cold for her to continue living with him.
"We were together for 15 years, and Belle died in June,” Sister Betty said. “She died in my arms on the feast of the Sacred Heart.”
Many of her dogs lived long, long lives, including Benjie, a Cairn terrier who came to her as a grooming client when he was 7 years old. “Ten years later his owner moved into a senior citizen high-rise,” and Benjie moved into Sister Betty’s house.
“When questioned how some of the dogs have lived to an old age, I give credit to the fact that we all eat Mother’s Oats every morning,” she writes in “Dog Heart.”
Sister Betty last month celebrated her jubilee —”75 years of a vowed life,” she said. For her 50-year jubilee, a neighbor gave her a hand-crafted wooden plaque that says: “All Dogs Go to Heaven, but the Lucky Ones Go to Sister Betty’s.” It’s prominently displayed at her West End house.
Sister Betty believes that dogs go to heaven to be reunited at some point with the people who loved them.
“Dog Heart” costs $20, and half of the proceeds will be donated to Animal Advocates. To order a copy of Sister Betty's memoir, call Animal Advocates at +1-412-928-9777
Sister Betty Waigand is a member of Sisters for Christian, joining as a charter member in 1970.