Meet Eric and Florence: the Labradors Who Work at Tewkesbury Abbey · The Wildest

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Labs Hired at Tewkesbury Abbey to “Put Visitors at Ease”

The dynamic duo have already made a paws-itive impact

by Orla Pentelow
7 July 2024
Black Labrador with an employee lanyard

Move over Larry the Cat. Dogs can have important jobs, too. Tewkesbury Abbey in Gloucestershire has welcomed two new team members in the form of four-legged furballs with an abundance of charm. Meet Eric and Florence: two lovable Labradors who have been appointed as honorary vergers, a role specially created to help visitors feel at ease as they explore the historic abbey.

The dynamic duo, owned by head verger Chris Skepper, have become an instant hit among both staff and visitors at the church. With their wagging tails and calming presence, Eric and Florence are there to provide comfort and put a smile on the faces of those who step through the abbey’s doors. 

The pair of Labs are part of a wider initiative aimed at making the abbey more accessible and welcoming to the community, and they will also act as therapy dogs for those that need them. Together they patrol the abbey grounds – they even have their own staff lanyards – greeting visitors with the occasional gentle nuzzle.

Eric and Florence can be seen in their part-time roles on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, where they “seem to put the visitors at ease”, says Chris. On their work days, they lie quietly on their mats in the side aisle during service, including Evensong. 

In a world where stress and anxiety are all too common, Eric and Florence offer a simple yet effective remedy. The Labs have become particularly popular with children and those who may feel anxious or overwhelmed by the abbey’s grandeur, and have been known to sit quietly with visitors who need a moment of peace. 

“We’ve had a case where a lady has come to a service and she couldn’t sit in it because she’d just lost someone recently but she came and found these [the dogs] and just sort of sat and stroked them,” head verger and the pup’s parent Chris Skepper told the BBC. “That’s what she needed at that time – just that oasis and that calm that that presented in the building,” he said.

And it’s not just Tewkesbury Abbey that’s benefiting from canine colleagues. Across the UK, dogs are taking on a variety of roles that help humans in all sorts of ways. Take Daisy, a remarkable Labrador who sniffed out over 550 cases of cancer in her lifetime, potentially saving her parent’s life in the process. 

Then there’s the story of Misty, who held an administrative role in a quarry, proving that dogs can be just as effective in an office setting as they are in more traditional roles. The typically intelligent Border Collie taught herself how to fetch and carry delivery forms to help out on the front desk of the Burlington quarry in Kirkby-in-Furness.

As for Eric and Florence, Tewkesbury Abbey’s decision to appoint the four-legged vergers is a testament to the positive impact dogs can have on our lives. As more and more cathedrals are opening their doors to canine congregants, the Gloucestershire church has gone one step further with its appointment of the two pups. So, next time you find yourself in Tewkesbury, be sure to stop by the abbey and give Eric and Florence some good scritches. 

Orla Pentelow

Orla Pentelow is a freelance journalist and copywriter based in London. When not at her desk she’s out and about with her rescue dog, Luna, who works primarily as chief distractor.

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