10/02/05 — Blessing of the animals

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Blessing of the animals

By Winkie Lee
Published in News on October 2, 2005 2:09 AM

The human beings who brought their pets to St. Francis Episcopal Church's Blessing of the Animals Saturday morning knew why they were there.

And maybe, just maybe, the animals did, too.

The 32 pets included one newt and a few cats, but mostly there were dogs.

The dogs barked during the Rev. Dr. "Van" Vannorsdall's leading of the Response. They barked during his reading from the Book of Genesis. They barked during recitation of "A Song of Creation."

"Let us pray," Vannorsdall then said.

And every dog fell silent.

Standing in a circle under the tall trees that grace the church's lawn, it was as if they knew this was the moment that all attention was to be directed to God.

Toward the end of the prayer, one dog whined just a bit and another barked briefly.

When that brief barking was talked about later, a third party said, "Maybe he was saying 'amen.'"

The Episcopal Church's calendar includes St. Francis Day on Oct. 4 and, in recognition, St. Francis Episcopal Church held the Blessing of the Animals.

St. Francis was a man who lived in the 1200s. He came from a rich family, but renounced his riches and received permission to have an order. He cared not only about people, but about animals, too. In time, a legend developed that said he could talk to the animals and the animals could talk to him.

The people who attended the Saturday service also love animals. Some of the pets they brought with them were animals that had been abandoned or rescued.

Carole Register of Dudley had three cats with her. Two, named Oreo and Cookie, were rescued by her son, Norman Sites of Dudley. He works as assistant manager of the night shift at a local Food Lion and was closing up one night when he found the kittens. They were about 8 weeks old and needed a home.

Mrs. Register also had her cat with her. Smoky is a full-blooded Russian Blue with soft gray hair and purple paws. Mrs. Register received Smoky from a woman who adopts a cat from the local animal shelter each Christmas Eve and then finds it a home. This time, Smoky was the only cat at the shelter, Mrs. Register said.

Mrs. Register is a member of the animal organization, WOOFF, and believes that animals are God's creatures. That's why she attended the service.

Doris and Ned Petrak of Goldsboro also believe. They had quite the crowd with them: Tiffany and Snowball, two Bichon Frises; Denver, a "cotton"; and Tigger, a Bichon poodle mix. All four were white and fluffy and interested in what was going on around them.

God created people to take care of animals, Mrs. Petrak said. "Show me how someone treats animals, and I'll show you how he treats his family and Christ," she added.

"We believe animals should be blessed," said Debbie Stedner of LaGrange. She and her husband, Stanley, and their granddaughter, Mikaela Casey, brought two cats. One was named Capone and remained in a gym bag during the blessing because he is an escape artist. The bag was open enough for him to get a look around but not to jump out. The other cat, Little One, has an underdeveloped heart and was held during the blessing.

Paula and "T" Griffin of Mount Olive brought Annie, a sheltie mix, and Twill, a cairn terrier. They have lived in other communities in the past and attended Blessing of the Animals ceremonies there.

"It was a meaningful experience," Mrs. Griffin said. "We've always loved the service. It recognizes that animals are part of God's creation."

Jeff Sarvey of Goldsboro and his children -- daughter, Lillian, and son, Jacob, -- brought Winston, a Bouvier des Flandres.

Sarvey called the service a "spiritual coming together of people who have a respect for living things."

During the service, Vannorsdall asked the name of each pet, announced it, dipped his fingers into a bowl of water, and touched the animal as he offered a blessing. Each pet owner was given a small St. Francis medal.