- October 23, 2022
Even the sweetest and softest among us need a blessing sometimes.
“Reba needs to be absolved of all the lizards she maimed this year,” said dog dad, Ed Upshaw.
Reba, a rambunctious dog retired from hospice therapy work, could barely sit still on Thursday, Oct. 3 as Father Dave Marshall of All Angels Episcopal Church blessed her and thanked her for being the dog she is and forgiveness for all those lizards.
“We usually look in the paper and see who’s doing blessings and make sure she gets one every year,” said Reba’s “mom,” Ginny Upshaw and member of the congregation at All Angels.
The tradition of pet blessings is a new one to All Angels, but is a well-documented tradition around the world during the Feast of St. Francis, who is the patron saint of animals and the environment. Father Marshall, who has been at All Angels about six months, came from a church that did this every year, he said. When he mentioned it to the congregation here, he got bewildered looks. However, he’s noticed that so many people have pets as their companions and knows they’re just another member of the family.
“Pet grieving is totally different than human,” Father Marshall said.
For Sandi Drake, Father Marshall’s understanding of the grief over a pet came at a pivotal time. Her dog Hunter, a therapy dog for the fire department and other volunteer organizations, had a twin who passed away earlier in the week due to cancer.
“You wouldn’t have known it,” Drake said. “It’s a big transition for us because we usually have three (dogs).”
Father Marshall blessed Hunter and the ashes of his brother as Drake grieved and Hunter wagged his tongue good-naturedly at his adopted mom’s side.
“Pets just love, they just are,” Father Marshall said. “The symbol of God’s love and forgiveness is in pets. You step on a dog’s paw and it immediately forgives.”
Though dogs are easier to bring to church than other pets, a cat did make her way in via an intercession prayer — made possible by a bag of the cat’s hair. It’s not unusual, as Father Marshall said he’s blessed stuffed animals and other stand-ins before. Ginny Upshaw said she even saw a boy bring his ant farm to be blessed once. But at All Angels, it was just the pups who came in person.
Father Marshall, who set up shop on the sidewalk outside of All Angels with a row of dog bowls and a book if the pet blessing business got slow, gave each dog ample attention and a sincere blessing. Puppy kisses and overexcitement were welcomed.
“I pray that you continue to shine with that awesome tongue of yours,” Father Marshall said while blessing Poppy, a rescue dog who was wary of all humans but her own.
Poppy’s rescue mom, Kriston Barnett, said she was found running wild in the Kentucky wilderness with her sister, and she’s still shy with people after missing out on human socialization. Father Marshall kept a respectful distance from the pup as she tried out various patches of grass to lay on, and blessed her nonetheless.
For many dogs, Father Marshall gave them a general blessing, though he did always ask the pup’s parents what to focus on.
“Just a general blessing and thanksgiving that we have him,” said Mary Ortiz, who brought Buddy and the bag of Mia the cat’s fur.
Whitney, a rescue from a puppy mill, needed a blessing for her eyes. Father Marshall got close to the excited dog and gave her just that, devoting his attention to the pup at hand while thankful dog parents looked on.