One can’t take pets for granted. Animal companions help humans in many ways, relieving loneliness, fostering responsibility, guiding, healing, giving and receiving love. In tribute to the many important animals in our lives, the Church in Ocean Park has been giving the Pet Blessing for almost 20 years-at least for as long as the life of Timothy, the Church’s former “guard dog,” and mascot, who received her first blessing at the Church 17 years ago, according to the memory of her human, Judy Abdo.
Former Santa Monica Mayor Abdo also brought her cat Spike to the blessing. Spike and half a dozen dogs were sprinkled with holy water and given a prayer of health and good wishes by Reverend Janet McKeithen.
“May you give each other the joy of friendship, spreading unconditional love,” Reverend McKeithen told each animal and his/her human.
Elinor Graham, who leads the singing at the Church, and her partner Reenie, brought their beloved animals: two black and white Cardigan Welsh Corgies named Hail Mary and “Uncle” Billy Hayes. Reenie explained that they had saved Hail Mary’s Life. Uncle Billy had come to them later, from Oregon, and she was recovering from just having been spayed, “so her belly is a little swollen.”
Abby, a Church regular, brought her guide dog, a large yellow eight-year old who remained quiet throughout the ceremony. More boisterous were the almost identical Norfolks, Piper and Caramel Candy, a mother-son team who yelped every now and then, and who couldn’t resist being the ones to break a “moment of silence” during the ceremony. But overall, the humans remarked on the commendably good behavior of the attending animals.
For the benefit of the many human attendees who could not bring their pets, and for those whose pets were no longer on Earth, the ceremony included a “sharing” session in which people spoke about their pets and lit candles on their behalf.
There were varied recollections-one woman spoke of giving her daughter a couple of hermit crabs as pets and discovering that they were higher-maintenance than she had expected. A man described his parakeet recovering from losing a leg.
Hannibal, who was visiting from Vienna and experiencing the Church in Ocean Park for the first time, mentioned that the house where he was staying had seven black cats and a dog named Daisy Mae. “I woke up one day and found this little black kitten staring at me with love. My friend said ‘That’s why we call him Loverboy.’”
The Pet Blessing was created in the spirit of St. Francis of Asissi, who lived in 13th century Italy and who, according to legend, gave up a life of wealth to live in poverty, communicating with animals and working toward peace.
Reverend McKeithen noted that celebrating the contributions of animals to our lives is a “humbling experience.”
“The bond between humans and animals is special because the communication is most basic. It is something that we don’t quite understand-but it is there.”