Holly Utter’s cat Olive Smith has a medical problem, so Holly took her to the recent Blessing of the Animals ritual at St. Francis Episcopal Church.
Olive is just 6 months old. Utter found the little kitten back in July.
“Olive was born with a birth defect,” she said. “She was born without a butthole.
“She’s been through a lot of things in her life. She’s had three surgeries and they made her a little butthole. We’re hoping for a miracle.”
Utter said Olive is still not where she needs to be medically.
With such a bad birth defect, some people may have just had the kitten put down. But not Utter.
“She’s happy,” she said. “She’s full of happiness and joy, and I couldn’t do it. I’m hoping that being blessed today will help Olive.”
Olive was just one of the many dogs and cats at the Blessing of the Animals.
Performing the ritual was the Rev. Kate Byrd, priest in charge at St. Francis.
“St. Francis is historically known as the saint of animals,” she said.
“I would say probably everybody at this church really loves animals. I have two dogs I bring to the office regularly. If they don’t keep things too lively, they also supply pastoral care sometimes.”
Byrd said the ritual is also a good way the church can use its pretty outdoor space to give people the opportunity to get together and share the love of their pets — and get their pets blessed.
“I think our pets become very much a part of our family,” she said. “And we have so many rites and rituals for people. When we can bless and honor our pets in that same way and name that as God’s creation as well, I think that honors that relationship.”
Byrd said she hopes the ritual also makes the owners feel good in some way.
There’s a whole process to the ritual.
“When I came out here this morning, I blessed the water with the same blessing we use when we do a baptism,” Byrd said. “Now that is considered sacred holy water.
“Then I just say a prayer like I would with any blessing, and invoke the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. I got a branch and used it to sprinkle water on the pets.”
Byrd said she believes there’s something special when blessings happen in front of other people.
“It’s always great when you have something you’re passionate about, like animals, to bring a community together,” she said. “I’m glad that we were able to do this this year. I know St. Francis will continue to hold this.”
Longtime church member, Liz Meador, said St. Francis has been offering the Blessing of the Animals ritual for at least 50 years.
She said one year, someone took a pet snake to be blessed.
Barbara Pedersen and Mike Barr took their 5-year-old dog Abby and 9-year-old beagle Buddy to be blessed. They both came from the animal shelter.
“I’ve been attending St. Francis since 1992 and I try to bring the animals,” Pedersen said. “It makes me feel good. And they enjoy getting out.”
Buddy was very vocal before, during and after the ritual, making himself known by howling in a deep voice.
Pedersen said Abby has been blessed once before.
“She was really good,” she said. “She sat right there and waited for the blessing.
“The last time we came, we had a basset hound, Droopy, and he was the loud one. He barked throughout the whole service. He was blessed in October 2019 and passed that December.”
Sasha, a 2-year-old Russian Blue, was at the Blessing of the Animals with her human, Sally Humphreys.
“I come every year,” Humphreys said. “If I get a new pet, I bring it. It’s a beautiful ceremony.
“I go to church, I think they should, too. It can’t hurt anything. And I believe in prayer.”
Anastasia Mostestella had 1-year-old Bruno, a chihauhau, with her.
“I believe that even the animals need to be blessed,” she said. “They are a blessing to us.”
Mostestella said Bruno has been a blessing, having come into her life just at the time she lost another beloved chihauhau.
“It makes me feel good to get him blessed because I feel like, just like me, I go to church, and even for pets, it’s good,” she said.
Although Stan Stedner had no pets to take to the Blessing of the Animals, he did take photos of his poodle, Abby, who had cancer, and his 16-year-old at Abby. He said he lost both of them this year.
“I brought their photos to be blessed because it’s the right thing to do,” he said. “And it gives me closure.”