Monday, June 13, 2011

New Skete–Cambridge, NY

Saturday, June 4th, after our balloon ride, we drove over to visit the New Skete Monastery, located just on the outskirts of Cambridge -  the real reason we chose this area to visit.

The Monks of New Skete, are best known through their books “How to Be Your Dogs Best Friend” and The Art of Raising a Puppy”. I have been a fan of these books and of the Monk’s unique approach to raising dogs for many years. They have given me an appreciation of our connection with all of God’s creatures and have added a sense of spirituality to that special relationship that we have with our pets.

New Skete is an Eastern Orthodox Religious Community that settled in this area in the 1960’s.  They first tried their hand at farming to support their community, but quickly switched to the raising and training of German Shepherd Dogs. The New Skete community, at present, consists of 9 Monks, 7 Nuns, and several married Companions,


The New Skete Monastery is located in a very peaceful and picturesque setting, which adds an air of serenity and calm to all the activities taking place here.


We walked the paths of the meditation garden which wind through the woods….. and paused to take in the calm spirituality……..



And beauty that was present everywhere we looked……




The Monks were having an ‘open house’ in conjunction with the Cambridge Town Festival. We joined Brother Stavros for a tour of the Holy Wisdom Temple.


Brother Stavros explained that the Eastern Orthodox Church came to this area from Russia, by way of Alaska, through the work of a missionary there who worked with the Aleuts and Tlingit tribes. This was a bit of a ‘full circle’ moment for us, having just visited Alaska and having learned of the Russian Orthodox influence there.


The Holy Wisdom Temple was beautiful, and we learned about the symbolism and meaning of each of the icons (or pictures) in the church.


But, of course, the REAL reason we came to visit New Skete was the dogs.   : )


And they were BEAUTIFUL!


And SO well mannered. As they were brought out to meet the guests, the dogs were excited and energetic, but always friendly and under control. They stood and let everyone pet them and thoroughly seemed to enjoy the attention.

Each member of the New Skete community is given a dog to care for. The dog spends his/her days accompanying the Brother or Sister as they work, and lives with them in the Monastery. Since the community is so small, and the number of dogs that are in their breeding program has grown, members of the church ‘parish’ also care for some of the dogs in their homes, bringing them back for breeding and whelping the puppies.

Brother Luke and a few helpers gave a demonstration of the puppy socialization program that they have developed at New Skete.


It is important to systematically expose the puppies to new experiences and to accustom them to people from the day they are born….. through the 8 weeks that they are in the Kennel before they are adopted out. This helps to create a more confident and happier/healthier pet.


The puppies are handled and cared for and loved on daily by several different people. There is nothing like a litter of puppies to tug at your heartstrings. It was so very difficult to leave without filling our an application to adopt one. Well……maybe another time……


This is the proud ‘papa’ of this litter of pups. The New Skete German Shepherds are bred using a sturdier German line of dogs, and special attention is paid both to temperament and to health.


Next, we joined Brother David as he told about the New Skete training program - a 3 week board and train program for dogs, especially for those with behavior problems.


This Golden Retriever came in as a very rowdy, misbehaving dog,…..and is leaving the program, 3 weeks later, happier and much more under control.


This is one of the trainers who has worked with the New Skete dogs for 15 years. She emphasized that with dogs, as with children, either you are training them, or they are training you.  And both are much happier and better behaved with proper guidance, leadership, and boundaries.

I had always said that if I were in this area of the country I would have to go by New Skete. I wanted to know if the great ideals that were written about by these Monks in the 1970’s and 1980’s were still being practiced….or was it all so much ‘hype’ and long forgotten. I was not disappointed. There is something wonderful going on here at New Skete……a community of people coming together to give praise, and to work towards a common goal……a respect for God and mankind….. and animals…… and all of nature…..evident in every relationships and interaction.

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