October 4, 2018, Adrian, Michigan – “Life is about bringing love to others. It’s about giving people the ability to turn their lives around.”
Those were the words of Dominican Sister Pauline Quinn, OP, in a special October 2 presentation to the Adrian Dominican Sisters at the Dominican Life Center. Those words described the message that she hopes prison inmates throughout the United States receive as they learn to train dogs to be of service to people with disabilities.
Sister Pauline could apply those same words to her own life experience: just like the prison inmates and the people with disabilities, Sister Pauline suffered much abuse and hardship as a child, but her life was turned around by a German shepherd named Joni.
Sister Pauline – who made private vows as a Dominican Sister and who is not formally a member of a Dominican Congregation – now makes her home at the Dominican Life Center with retired Adrian Dominican Sisters. Accompanied by her own service dog, Pax, she shared her life story with the Sisters and expressed her gratitude for their kindness and hospitality.
Her early years were filled with abuse and rejection. She had lived in 14 different institutions and in many ways was misunderstood and treated harshly. Even after leaving the institutions and living as a homeless woman in Los Angeles, Sister Pauline struggled, but she began to see the need to focus on taking care of herself and ignoring what others thought of her.
At this point, she turned to God. “I told him that if he would help me change my life, I would help the other people,” she said. “I heard he helped the birds of the air.” God listened to her prayer and sent her a German shepherd. “A dog named Joni helped me realize that I was a worthwhile human being,” she said. “When Joni was sent to me from Texas, her demeanor helped people realize that they had to treat me with respect. …It was the start of my dignity.”
Joni became the bridge to Sister Pauline’s life’s work. “Because I loved Joni I wanted to learn how to train dogs,” she said. “Unconditional love brings people together. I became other-centered. A new life started to open up to me.”
Since 1981, this new life has involved Sister Pauline’s ministry of initiating dog-training programs in prisons. She established the first program, the Prison Pet Partnership, at a women’s prison in Washington State. Similar programs have since been established at prisons throughout the United States, Canada, and Europe.
“There were many disabled waiting for a dog,” she recalled. “Having a dog by their side would help them regain their self-respect and esteem. Prisoners who trained the dogs started to heal from their own pain. I saw firsthand that finding meaning for our lives through the unconditional love of a dog can help people to be healed.”
Sister Pauline explained that many of the dogs are donated to her by breeders. While service dogs are frequently breeds such as Labradors, golden retrievers, German shepherds, and poodles, a dog’s breed is not the deciding factor. “The primary concern is temperament and health,” she said. “The dog has to be flexible and tolerant of noise, with good hips and good health.”
She continued in her ministry of initiating prison dog programs through Bridges and Pathways of Courage, a non-profit organization established in 1985. Other programs under Bridges and Pathways focus on providing hope for children through education, medical services, and improved living environments; helping people who are disenfranchised by offering them opportunities; and supporting and caring for people suffering from trauma.
Sister Pauline continues to reach out to people throughout the world who are in need of help. She told the Sisters of her help for Emmanuel, a young man from Uganda who needed assistance in opening a preparatory school in his home town. “It seemed like an impossible task to build a school in that remote area,” she said. “God took care of many birds of the air, so I knew God could help me to help Emmanuel.” She has raised money to open the school for 138 children and to build a dormitory to protect the girls. “That, too, was built” with the help of many donors, she said.
In February 2019, Sister Pauline will visit Hong Kong to help establish a service dog program. “They only use guide dogs for the blind,” she said. “This will be to open the doors” to the use of other service dogs in Hong Kong.
In all of her work, Sister Pauline is dedicated to reaching out in love and compassion to all people who suffer from abuse and who are marginalized in any way. “No matter how much I protested, God kept wielding me and I became a fighter for God’s marginalized, so they would never be treated as junk any more.”