Between polar vortexes in mid January, Bishop Malone picked up a five-year-old black Labrador retriever from a rescue shelter in Salamanca.
A lifelong lover of dogs, the bishop has wanted a pet since the death of Jonah, also a black lab, that he cared for while in Maine.
"I grew up with dogs from the time I was a little kid," he said. "My first dog was a collie-German shepherd mix. From that time on, in my family, I can never remember a time when we didn't have a dog. I had some wonderful mutts." His sister who lives just north of Boston, Mass., is on her fourth golden retriever. "When I first came here I thought of (getting a dog), but I knew I had to settle in, learn the names of numbers of the players as I took the helm as the new bishop of the diocese," he said.
He must feel settled now, because when the subject of pets came up during a lunchtime conversation at the Catholic Center, he decided to pursue a pooch. The bishop wanted a puppy, but realized it would be too difficult to raise and train a young dog because his schedule calls him to all corners of the diocese and to several out of town meetings. Even with two other priests living at his residence helping with feedings and walks, it would not be the best choice. Kathryn Goller, director of the Department of Youth and Young Adult Ministry, had just adopted a dog via Petfinder.com.
Like the bishop, Goller and her husband had wanted a dog for some time, but both having full-time jobs prevented them from getting a puppy. Her former veterinarian told her about Petfinder, which pools information from animal shelters and rescue groups. By typing in a ZIP and golden retriever, the Gollers found a picture of Murray, an 18-month-old stray in Medina, that joined their family a couple days later.
"I just love having a dog, and I love this dog," she said.
"There are so many good dogs who have had to be given up for one reason or other. It's a good thing to adopt a dog, to rescue a dog," the bishop said.
After meeting the big guy, who looked so much like Jonah, the bishop knew he found the right friend.
The first thing to do was find a name. His previous owner called him "Toodles," which doesn't fit the big creature. "Toodles might have worked for him when he was a puppy, and it might work for a little dog like a Chihuahua or a Pomeranian or a Shih Tzu, but it doesn't work for a great big overweight Lab," the bishop said.
The dog now answers to the name Timon, in honor of Buffalo's founding bishop.
Bishop Malone makes it clear that Timon is his dog, not a house dog or mascot. Msgr. Paul A. Litwin, chancellor of the diocese, and Father Ryszard S. Biernat, secretary to the bishop, help when needed, but it is the bishop that Timon follows, the bishop who walks him at 5 a.m., and the bishop who plays catch with him.
"He's bonded with me completely. He's like my shadow when I walk around. Everywhere I go, there he is," Bishop Malone said. "Even when I go into the chapel in the morning to say my prayers, he comes in and sits right beside me."
He doesn't mind the extra work of caring for a pet. After a hard day in the office or a day of visiting schools or attending Catholic Charities meetings, it can be relaxing to have a warm, friendly face to come home to, offering unconditional love and unending playfulness.
The bishop has a regular practice of holding evening prayer at 5:20 with Msgr. Litwin and Father Biernat. "Now we have a fourth, because Timon comes right in and he lies right down with us," the bishop said, before clarifying, "not with us. We're sitting in chairs. But he lies right down at my feet as we're praying."
Timon has already made some new friends in the Oakland Place neighborhood, as has the bishop.
"I have had probably a half dozen conversations with other dog owners and neighbors who I might not strike up a conversation with. So it's really excellent. It could even be a tool for evangelization," Bishop Malone said. "It was a little bit of a wake up call (in late January). I took him out at 5:30 in the morning. It was the day it was zero degrees. But you know what, I still didn't mind. He loves going outside and he loves the walks. It's a joy to have him."
During the day, while Bishop Malone and Father Biernat are visiting parishes or schools, and Msgr. Litwin is overseeing the chancery, Marianne Pintabona, housekeeper at the residence, turns into a dogsitter. Timon keeps her company, and in turn she takes him for his noon walk.
"He's real good on a lead if I take him for a walk. And he knows where he lives. When we come back, I won't say anything. He'll turn in the driveway and come in," she said.
It can be difficult for a priest to have a pet. There is always the chance of being transferred to a parish that is not animal friendly, or working with someone who is afraid or allergic to animals.
"I'm blessed that the two priests I'm with like dogs," Bishop Malone said. "They enjoy Timon. They're happy to have him in the house. He's a good new fourth member of our little community here."
Courtney Valent, founder and director of EARS, has followed up with the bishop to see how the Irish shepherd and black lab are getting along.
"(Timon) was exactly what he was looking for," she said. "We knew the bishop would give him a great home. He had experience with a black lab before and took wonderful care of it. It was a really good match. We were happy to help him out."