WASHINGTON – Bouncers might seem unnecessary at a church,but some energetic pets kept them busy at the National Cathedral's Blessing of Animals Monday evening.
More than 100 cuddly critters came on leashes,in cages and in bowls,some scampering about the cathedral's northwest steps,as they and their owners celebrated the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi,patron saint of animals. The playful atmosphere was in stark contrast to the kind of events usually held at the Gothic cathedral,including Ronald Reagan's funeral in June.
Meredith Mikesell,25,a caretaker for Dogs By Day & Nite daycare and boarding service,said she attended the ceremony to be a “bouncer and to keep the peace” among the dogs.
“They're social animals,” she said. “Today they've been pretty well behaved.”
Mikesell said she knew of only one pet,a dog,that actually escaped from its owner's grip,but she and other Dogs By Day & Nite employees helped chase down the escapee.
As Canon Mary Sulerud gathered the crowd that consisted of mostly playful dogs,but also several nervous cats,a few finicky ferrets and some fish and their owners,several dogs began yelping in unison – a seemingly planned response.
Sulerud and other canons led pet owners in thanking God for “all his works” – particularly animals. With a boxwood branch dipped in holy water,the canons blessed each pet by dabbing the wet branch on its head.
“I bless you in the name of God who created you,and I bless your owner,too,” the canons said.
To Sulerud,pets are like family members,and she said she is glad the National Cathedral shows hospitality to the owners and their beloved animals.
“This brings people close to a spiritual gathering,” she said. “In a really urban area,pets represent ties to what's truly natural.”
Ana Colon,a 46-year-old Puerto Rican native who teaches English as a second language in nearby Montgomery County,Md.,has made the blessing ceremony an annual ritual for five years. Sam,Colon's 80-pound,curly black-haired Bernese mountain dog,tried to lick everyone who walked by.
“It's a way to thank God for the creation,” Colon said. “It's the idea that we have responsibility for creation,whether it's trees or animals.”
Sam,who is 9 years old,has arthritis,and Colon said the service is a time to pray for his health,too.
Colon's attendance at the blessing services sparked her interest in St. Francis. Reading more about the saint's love for animals has brought her “peace and comfort,” she said.
Bumble,a gray Seal Point Himalayan cat,was a squirmy ball of fluff in her owner's arms as she peered with wide blue eyes at Sam and the other canines around her.
Her owner,Alexandra Huffman – a 16-year-old student at Madison High School in suburban Vienna,Va. – said it was the first time the 3-month-old kitten had been outside.
Huffman got Bumble after her other cat died. She hoped Bumble would benefit from the blessing.
“I just think this is something I should do,” Huffman said. “Hopefully,she will have a longer life.”
St. Francis lived during the 12th century and founded what is now the Franciscan Order. The Feast of St. Francis is Oct. 4.