Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 481
Opal and the preacher soon learn that Winn-Dixie does not like being left alone. If they leave him alone inside their trailer, he snatches all the cushions off the couch and takes the toilet paper off the roll. So they begin tying him up outside the trailer, but Winn-Dixie howls so loudly that he makes a neighbor’s dog begin howling too. Opal says that this is the kind of noise that is not allowed in the adults-only trailer park, so she convinces the preacher to take Winn-Dixie wherever they go. She reckons that Winn-Dixie feels like his heart is empty when he gets left alone, so the preacher submits, and Winn-Dixie goes with them everywhere, even to church.
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The Open Arms Baptist Church is unlike any other. The building used to be the Pick-It-Quick store, and the store’s motto had been fashioned in red tiles on the floor. When the preacher took over the church, he tried to paint over the red tiles, but the paint never stayed and the preacher eventually gave up trying to cover them. Also, the church has no pews, so members of the congregation bring fold-up chairs and lawn chairs to service. Opal figures that since the church is a little strange, Winn-Dixie will fit right in.
The first time Opal and the preacher take Winn-Dixie to church, the preacher ties him to a tree outside the front door. When Opal asks why, her father tells her that dogs do not belong in church. Inside, the singing and praying commences, and from the pulpit, the preacher begins his sermon. But he only utters a few words before Winn-Dixie begins howling outside. The preacher tells Opal to attend to Winn-Dixie, so she goes outside and brings him in among the congregation. Winn-Dixie smiles at the preacher, and all is well until a mouse scurries across the floor.
There have always been mice at the church left over from the time when the church was the grocery store, and the mice have stayed around to take advantage of the morsels left behind from pot-luck dinners. When Winn-Dixie sees the mouse, he immediately chases after it, and his paws slip and slide on the polished tiles. Winn-Dixie catches the mouse and holds it gently in his mouth. Members of the congregation are impressed with Winn-Dixie and claim that he must have some retriever in his blood. Winn-Dixie drops the mouse at the preacher’s feet, and when the mouse tries to run away, Winn-Dixie catches its tail with his paw. The preacher takes the mouse and releases it outside the church. Not knowing what to do next, the preacher asks the congregation to pray for the mouse and for everyone else. Opal takes the time to talk to God about her loneliness: she is one of few children at the church, and she still misses her mother.