As Father Dave Marshall brings the custom back for a second year, it enters "tradition" territory.
Poor dogs. This year must be rough for them. With face masks a necessary accessory, there aren’t as many faces to lick, though they still tried to get at Father Dave Marshall’s cheeks at the 2020 pet blessing at All Angels Episcopal Church.
On Oct. 1, Marshall welcomed dogs and cats to the church’s lawn for their annual blessings. The blessings are in remembrance of St. Francis of Assissi, the patron saint of pets and the environment. Pet blessings happen all over, but Marshall brought the custom to Longboat Key in 2019.
“It’s tradition now,” he said.
Marshall welcomed several pets back from last year, such as Reba and Buddy (back to re-up on their blessing, with a warranty for an entire year, as Reba’s humans Ginny and Ed Upshaw joked), as well as new furry faces, such as 18-year-old cat Jessie.
“If anyone deserves to be blessed it’s this sweet cat,” Jessie’s human, Tamara Wright said.
Jessie kept calm as Wright pulled her out of her carrier, her eyes wide and bright as she took in the sights and smells of the lawn, but she was more than happy to stay perched on Wright’s shoulder throughout it all.
“Lord, thank you for this beautiful cat,” Marshall said as he blessed Jessie. “Her dependency on her human and the way she clings to her mirror the way we depend on you.”
Dogs and cats, when they overlapped, social-distanced from each other as their humans practiced social distancing too, and anxious pups pulled at their leashes as the tempting lizards ran around the lawn. Reba, a black poodle, wore a pumpkin hat that somehow stayed on throughout her exuberance at being outdoors and seeing people.
“This is just to keep her healthy and happy,” Ginny Upshaw said. “Her real passion is to catch lizards. She thinks she’s a hunting dog. You can tell when she’s on the trail.”
Buddy, watched over by his humans Ed and Mary Ortiz, managed to almost stay put during his blessing, but as soon as it was done, Ed Ortiz let the leash out to its longest length and let Buddy roam around as he chatted with Marshall. Buddy does what Buddy wants, they said.
“People will say, ‘Oh, I’m too old to have a dog,’ but he’s what keeps us young,” Ed Ortiz said.
On Sunday, Marshall conducted more blessings, though most of them took place virtually as it rained much of the morning. Clemmy Bishop, dog of BJ and Dave Bishop, was the only pet to be blessed in person that morning, but Marshall invited those watching from home to place their hands on their pets as he read the blessing. It’s a little unconventional, as blessings tend to necessitate touch from the priest to the one being blessed.
“As far as the virtual blessings go, well, St. Francis preached to birds and all the animals and he didn’t touch them,” Marshall said. “That’s why I extended that theology. God’s the one doing the blessing.”