Among the many ‘titles’ bestowed on me by family members over the years, are “Best Italian Sauce Maker” and “World’s Greatest Mom.” I know at least this last one is true because I have a tee shirt to prove it. When I taught dance a few years ago, I was given a trophy that said “Outstanding Performer and Choreographer.” Now this one meant a lot to me because someone other than a family member gave it to me! Family members will lie to you because they love you, but not other people.
But the title I am most proud of is the one I gave myself, “World’s Greatest Dog Lover”, because, I am. I can remember when I was three years old I had a stuffed animal, a dog with big floppy ears, I named “Fluffy”. Yes, I was creative even back then. But that dog was a constant companion to me and he comforted me when the nightlight was turned off and the room got dark. I kept Fluffy around for many years until our family finally got a real, live dog. Of course no dog could replace Fluffy, but Pierre took his best shot.
Pierre was a French poodle that my father brought home to us one day. He got the puppy from a breeder friend. This was the beginning of my love affair with dogs. For days we would try out different names on this dog until we could settle on just the right one. After all, this was a poodle, so names like “Buddy” or “Bandit” were out of the question. One day we called out, “Pierre”, and he barked back at us. We thought it was a sign he liked the name! But now that I think about it, maybe he actually snarled at us. Pierre was the first of many dogs our family would own and love. Not far behind him were Fritz, Rusty, Casey, Shauna, Oliver, Mickey, Ozzy, Sparky, Toby, Buster and Spencer, every breed in every size. We’re all suckers for furry things.
Americans are known for having great love for their pets. They cease being pets and come to be revered as real members of the family. They eat our food, sleep with us, guard our property, protect us, play with us and give unconditional love and admiration to us even when we don’t deserve it. They talk to us in their own way and have facial expressions that seem to tell us they understand every word we are saying to them.
So it’s no surprise that many of us also want to address the spiritual needs of our pets. You didn’t know they had spiritual needs? Tell that to the hoards of birds, cats, dogs, gerbils and ferrets that will assemble this week in front of many local churches for the yearly Blessing of the Animals. This event has grown in popularity over the years and is usually held on October 4, the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi, himself, a great lover of animals. This saint believed that all of nature, human and otherwise, is connected and worthy of love and respect. I asked my cairn terrier, Ozzy about this and he says Francis is right.
Now the simple blessing of animals has been done at some of the most esteemed churches in the country, such as St. John the Divine in New York City. But the ceremony is the same all over. A priest or minister recites some prayers for the animals or may read from the writings of St. Francis. Holy water is then sprinkled over the animals, invoking God’s blessing for them. For me, this is the most exciting part of the ceremony because I keep hoping that after they are blessed, my little guys will no longer have the desire to tear up mail or my shoes.
On second thought, maybe I’m the one who needs some holy water.