When the Rev. Joseph Zingaro, 67, passed away in May, St. John Cantius parish in Bridesburg lost a pastor and a pillar of their faith community.
Countless lives were impacted by his death, but none, arguably, more so than those without a voice to express it: his two dogs, Sammy and Petey.
Zingaro adopted Petey about 13 years ago and Sammy about five years ago from the Animal Care and Control Team on Hunting Park Avenue.
And, wherever Zingaro went, so did his four-legged companions from drive-thru stops to vacations across the country every summer.
They were at the forefront of his mind even in the face of failing health.
“Father had many health issues and, therefore, had necessary medical procedures,” said Linda Milewski, former principal at St. John Cantius School. “Before going through procedures, he would write a letter telling me what he wanted me to do with his dogs if he didn’t make it through his surgeries.”
A woman of her word, Milewski was determined to honor Zingaro’s final wish of finding both pups a furever home upon his passing.
And, so began a social media crusade that spanned a few months before fate intervened.
“I followed Father Joe’s wishes and worked for almost three months to find the dogs a home,” she said. “There were people who wanted to adopt the dogs, but it just wasn’t a right fit. And, some of the employees at the rectory helped out with the dogs.”
Milewski’s heartstring-tugging post was shared hundreds of times on Facebook, and eventually made its way onto Dana Bowser’s newsfeed.
Warminster residents Bowser and her 13-year-old son, Justin, are no strangers to loss.
They were still grieving the loss of their 15-year-old Shih Tzu, Toi Lina, who passed away in early August, when Dana first saw the post about Sammy and Petey.
“She was a beautiful dog, loving, part of our family,” Bowser said about their pet. “When she was a puppy, I took her everywhere. I had one of those little travel bags.”
In 2016, Toi Lina was diagnosed with congestive heart failure, which eventually led to seizures and a fatal decline in health.
“I saw a picture of [Petey and Sammy] and I just got goosebumps,” Bowser said. “Once I read the story, I just felt something inside me saying, ‘I have to contact [Linda] and find out more about them.’ ”
After messaging several people, Bowser finally connected with Milewski via email, and a meet and greet took place on Monday, Aug. 17, with the Bowser family and Sammy at the St. John Cantius rectory.
“Sammy came outside into the yard, and we were on the other side of the fence and he just came over and he was wagging his tail and he was just a happy boy,” Bowser said. “And, then Justin and I went on the other side of the fence and started playing with him, and he was running around and he was happy and we were petting him. And, he was just a really, really friendly dog. And, I just felt in my heart he needed a loving home.”
The instant connection and shared backgrounds made it impossible to return to life without Sammy.
“Just hearing the story of how he lost his owner and we lost our baby, it was fate. It was meant to be,” Bowser said.
Milewski saw the connection, too.
“When Dana and Justin met Sammy, it was love at first sight for all involved,” Milewski said. “Dana got right down on the ground with Sammy and his tail was wagging a mile a minute,” Milewski said. “He was licking her. It was an amazing sight.”
Justin was happy to have a new playmate.
“I didn’t know he was going to be that big because I was used to having a small dog,” he said. “But, I like how he’s energetic and that I can play with him.”
A couple of days after the initial meeting, Milewski and one of the women involved in the rescue trying to help find Sammy a home helped set up a home visit.
“I met many wonderful people during the time I was looking for homes for the dogs,” Milewski said. “The rescues do marvelous work. I can never say thank you enough to two special women who helped find these two guys a home, Jamie Holt and Megan Poley.”
Rather than just checking out the potential environment, the duo showed up at the Bowsers’ home that Thursday with a surprise guest: Sammy.
“We took him for a walk, we gave him some treats, I played with him. I gave him a tour of the house,” Bowser said. “And, I was sitting on the couch, and he jumped up on the couch and just started licking my mask and my face. And, at that point, Linda had tears, and we all started crying and got this feeling. It was almost like he jumped up and hugged me.”
After receiving such a warm welcome from the Bowsers and returning the favor, they decided to make Sammy a member of the family.
Sammy and the Bowser family made it official on Aug. 23.
For now, the family is working on settling in together.
Sammy has made himself at home from day one, according to Bowser.
“He climbed up into bed and slept like a baby. He climbed into Justin’s bed. And, he climbed into my bed. He literally takes up one whole side of the bed,” she said.
From several walks a day, to an endless supply of treats, from playing tug-of-war with his toys, to singing along to his favorite tunes, to making guest appearances at Zumba classes.
A part-time Zumba instructor, Bowser teaches classes from her living room because of COVID-19 restrictions.
And, those the newly formed family lost are never far from memory.
Posters of Toi Lina line the walls and there’s a spot for Zingaro.
“We actually have a picture of Father Joe with the two dogs sitting on our coffee table so that he’ll always be with us even though we didn’t know him personally,” Bowser said. “Since Sammy’s been here, he’s been nothing but lovable and affectionate. It makes me so overwhelmed with joy to be able to open up our hearts and home to give him the love he deserves.”