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Longboat Key Monday, May 9, 2022 6 days ago

All Angels by the Sea Episcopal Church plans pet memorial

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The church will redo part of its garden to make a space for people to grieve their pets.
by: Nat Kaemmerer Staff Writer

Jerry and Gay Bowles loved their English cocker Maggie for 12 years until she died in January 2021.

The loyal dog lived to be 15 after being born into a puppy mill, and Jerry Bowles said she was just a wonderful dog. The couple had her cremated after her death, and her urn has rested on Bowles’ desk ever since. But they wanted a permanent resting place for their dog that they could go visit, and they live in a condo — no yard to inter their beloved dog.

“Most people living in condos have the same problem, where there’s no place to put your pets’ ashes,” Bowles said. 

Bowles, a member at All Angels by the Sea Episcopal Church, wasn’t alone. In talking with other members of the church, he found another man who had been carrying several urns of pets from his past, and another member had even more.

Pets have a high level of importance at All Angels, given that Rev. Dave Marshall began the tradition of the annual pet blessing on St. Francis Day when he became lead rector in 2019. Marshall did some research and found the history of people being buried with pets or memorializing their pets over thousands of years. He went forward with a modern take on the tradition. 

“It’s an outcropping of the pet blessing we do. … It starts with the Blessing of the Animals, and the natural next step is to say a few words and have a way to remember them at their passing,” Marshall said. “We have folks here who have lost their pets and need a way to grieve because losing a pet is real grief. So I have helped people with prayers, and I have helped with memorials for pets. … You don’t have to belong to All Angels, so if you wanted to come by with ashes and put them in a special spot and have a way to remember and say goodbye to your pet, you can.”

The church team is starting out with maintenance on the landscaping around the area, clearing out brush and carving out a space for reflection. Marshall wants to put a statue of St. Francis, the patron saint of animals and the environment, in the garden as well. The church’s governing board has approved the project and Bowles is contacting the town to move forward with the project. Marshall hopes it will all be in place by October. 

“It would be really neat if we fit it in with the Blessing of the Animals and St. Francis Day (on Oct. 4),” Marshall said. 

Marshall is quick to say that the idea came from his parishioners and their need for a final resting place for their pets. When the space is cleaned up and dedicated, people can make an appointment and bring their pets’ ashes to scatter them in the garden after a brief ceremony and some words from Marshall. 

“It’ll be really nice to have her (Maggie) in the yard of the church. … It’ll be the new home of our pet,” Bowles said. 

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