Bambi and Princess bounce into the room with endless energy. Bambi jumps up and puts her paws on my knees, she loves being petted. Princess is shy, but her tail wags as she watches Bambi soak up the spotlight. At first glance, you wouldn't know that Bambi and Princess are lucky to be here in this room. One wouldn't think that these two happy dogs were found in a dumpster one lonely evening, hungry, with nothing else but each other. The reason they're both here today is because of the kindness and generosity of one man and his dedication to nurture and protect animals in need. That man is Father Hynes.
Born in Ireland, Father Hynes grew up with an admiration for bigger than life figures, the biggest of which being former President John F. Kennedy. "He had it all," Father Hynes says of Kennedy, "The fame, the looks, he had it all." In the wake of Kennedy's assassination, Hynes came to the realization that terrible things can happen to anyone, regardless of fame or fortune. "I realized that in an instant, everything could be taken away. It was then I felt the change in me." Inspired by the fragility of life, Hynes sought out a path to improve his own life experience while helping others fully realize theirs.
His love of animals is rooted in his early childhood years. "I had a Yorkie and a pug," Hynes recalls, "I was given a gift. Losing them was such an awful experience, but I knew I would have pets again someday."
Luckily for the hundreds of dogs and cats he's helped get medical care for in San Antonio, Father Hynes did have more pets. Having pets helped spur Father Hynes to help the many animals on the streets with no homes. "When I got my own dogs, since I hadn't had some since when I was a kid, the feeling I had for them and just seeing the animals on the street was something that inspired me, so I just started picking them up."
And so began Hynes's mission to help animals in need. What started as picking up animals on the streets and getting them necessary medical attention turned into so much more.
"People would hear about me picking up animals and then just start bringing them to me," Hynes recalls. "I remember even getting boxes of kittens sometimes. What started out as something simple just became so addictive. I wanted to help more and more, and not just in my neighborhood, but on any side of town."
Hynes currently resides deep in the heart of one of San Antonio's most challenging neighborhoods when it comes to animal welfare. For Father Hynes, animal mistreatment is something he sees quite a bit. "You see a lot of dogs with matted fur that have been beat up. One dog I took to the vet was one of the worst I had ever seen. He had to be put down because it was so bad. Unfortunately, mistreatment like that is not a one time thing.”
In his words, Father Hynes believes that better treatment of animals starts with a culture change in the community.
"There's a message in the scriptures that says humans hold dominion over animals," Father Hynes says. "The effectiveness of this message depends on how it's interpreted of course. Dominion doesn't necessarily mean control or domination , it also means that as humans, we have a responsibility to nurture and protect. Unfortunately, misinterpretation has done a lot of damage.”
Back in Father Hynes's office, Princess remains slightly timid. While she is comfortable and affectionate with Father Hynes, she's reluctant to approach me. "The little one is still nervous," Father Hynes says reassuringly. "Many times the dogs are so traumatized, they take a long time to come around." Father Hynes gives a nurturing rub to little Princess and she eases out of her nervousness. From Hynes's words and actions, it's clear that he has a genuine passion for animals and a desire to get personally involved in helping.
For Father Hynes, the solution for animal wellness lies in the power of the community. As a Catholic priest, he has years of experience serving as a leader here in San Antonio. He points to one of his own leaders, Pope Francis, as a driving voice for positive change among the people.
"The community is very important," Hynes says. "Pope Francis has come out with an encyclical, which is a very important message to the church and to all people of goodwill. In it, he specifically mentions animals. People have been talking for centuries about our responsibility to take care of all creation. The Pope mentions that everything is interconnected and we have a big responsibility to be out there in the forefront of protecting."
Over time, Hynes has lived as an example of those words, helping and protecting 200 dogs and cats in need of immediate care and loving homes. In his own words, a week has yet to pass without an animal in need of his help. What started out has a passion, has grown into something special that has inspired others to get involved in the cause.
"I guess the motivation was from my experience with my own dogs," Hynes says as he reflects on what consistently motivates him to help animals. "How can anyone treat these animals horribly, especially when they look up at you the way they do?"
"Hopefully that message will be proclaimed more and more to raise people's awareness," Haynes says. "To me there's a common sense - don't abuse them. But there was never this emphasis in the past on protecting them the way we are now."
Ultimately, Hynes believes that everyone deserves a high quality of life, but that it's up to us as humans to make sure we're making lives better for the animals. Hynes points to his teachings of justice for his message to how we as humans should be making lives better for all lives around us.
"Justice is central to the biblical message” Hynes says. “Everyone should be treated fairly. It’s like we’re giving people the crumbs that fall from the table, but we should make a place at our table for them. Everyone has a place at the table ... humans, animals, everybody. When everyone has a place and is treated fairly, that’s justice."