Driving Miss Daisy to Partake in the “Blessing of the Animals” Celebration

Driving Miss Daisy to Partake in the “Blessing of the Animals” Celebration 

"The origin of the “Blessing of the Animals,” goes back to Saint Francis of Assisi and Ancient Jews."

At the recommendation of a neighbor, and my son Jason's blessings I took his dog Daisy to the “Blessing of the Animals” Celebration at St. Andrews Episcopal Church in Saratoga, this passed Sunday. It is one of many churches throughout the world that offer a special blessing in honor of St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals that began almost 800 years ago.

The man who would be saint, was born Giovanni di Pietro di Bernadone in 1181. Later, his father, a wealthy cloth merchant gave him the nickname, Francesco or “Francis.” Many of the stories and legends that surround St. Francis deal with his love of animals, his caring for the natural world, his dedication to the poor and as a man of peace. He gave up a life of wealth and privilege. it was these virtues that inspired Pope Francis to take his name, and is the middle name I was given when I was baptized in the Catholic Church. 

St. Francis was the ultimate “animal whisperer.” Legend has it that he preached to hundreds of birds and brokered a peace between a ferocious wolf and the people of a small village it was terrorizing. His sensitivity to all living and organic things are reminicent of the Buddhist teachings about loving kindness toward all sentient beings.

Channing Smith, the affable priest at St. Andrew’s called for owners to bring their pets up for the “blessing.” We were given an opportunity to say a few words about our dogs. When it was our turn, I introduced myself and Daisy. I told him how she came into our lives when our son moved back from LA last November. It was a auspicious time. We were mourning the loss of our little Maltese, Lily after 18 years of companionship. Daisy filled the void and soften the loss. Channing was moved by the story, petted Daisy, and with his placing his hand above her head gave her a blessing.

Many synagogues have their own blessing of animals, a practice that is said to have originated in by the ancient Hebrews. The Jewish ceremony is often performed on the seventh day of Passover. It represents freedom from the oppression of slavery in Egypt more than 3000 years ago of living creatures. It is a reminder to treat our pets more like companions than slaves.

As a student of the world’s religions, I have never attended a service in any tradition as joyful as this one. Near the end of the service I witnessed some people lovingly holding and caressing their cats and kittens. I saw a woman rolling a baby kitten of four months, in a small baby carriage. It’s name was Betton. It turns out that the woman strolling Betton around was Addie, the founder and president of Kitten Cattidude Rescue. I also spoke to Darelle, one of the dedicated volunteers who had a black cat in his arms that Daisy took a liking too. 

I found an empty pew to sit on for the remainder of the service. Directly in front of me was a man holding a Chihuahua named Rosy next to his daughter Dani. As we compared notes, it turns out Rosy and Daisy were about the same age (5 years old), were both rescue dogs and were both Chihuahuas.

I was pleasantly surprised how well behaved Daisy was. When Cecile and I walk her a few times a day on the trails of our gated-community, she can be very feisty with other dogs. She's been known to bark and snap at dogs bigger than herself. But, here she was calm and friendly and curious of what was going on around her. She felt at home in the midst of strangers. I could only conclude that the magic of St. Francis must have rubbed off on her. After all, as the story goes, animals and birds alike were susceptible to his charm and gentle ways. He was their friend, and their protector.

Photo credit: Last image (Saint Piere D'arene church) Nice, France) Oct. 6. Eric Ballard/Reuters