Blessing of the Animals is quite a howl at St. Matthias Lutheran

CLEARWATER

One parishioner took a snooze under the pews. One snarled at "St. Francis," the patron saint of animals. And one sprinkled his own brand of holy water on the bushes outside.

Saturday was the annual Blessing of the Animals at St. Matthias Lutheran Church, 2751 Sunset Point Road. It was, by all accounts, quite a howl.

When the congregation sang the hymn All Things Bright and Beautiful, a rat terrier named T.J. and his poodle "brothers," Timothy and Bobby, joined in. Soon, they were leading the rest of the hounds in a call-of-the-wild chorus.

"They practice at home every day," said owner Judy Clark.

In addition to her singers, Clark brought Perry, a sprightly chihuahua/terrier mix with big, perky ears. He needed a permanent home.

"He was going to be euthanized," said Clark. "He was flown in from North Carolina by Pilots N Paws. He's here today representing all the animals that came on that flight and are hoping to get adopted."

Pastor Bill Magee said the church has been putting on the ceremony for years. It celebrates the feast of St. Francis of Assisi — a patron saint with a storied love of animals and nature.

As the dogs yelped, tugged on leashes and sniffed each other's rear ends, Magee said he likes to keep the service, held in the church's sanctuary, short.

"Pets are like kids," he said. "They don't have a long attention span."

In attendance were dozens of canines and a few wide-eyed felines in cages. They received a double blessing — one from Magee and the other from a brown-robed "St. Francis," a.k.a. Eugene Girardi.

Returning from the 13th century, the saint talked about his affinity for animals and how he once tamed a man-eating wolf that terrorized a small village.

But with all his talents, poor ol' St. Francis couldn't tame Jovie, a "peki-chi-weenie" (Pekingese, chihuahua and dachshund mix) that bared her teeth as he tried to bless her.

Many said they brought their pets because of health, behavioral or emotional issues. Others wanted to prepare them for a heavenly journey. Some thought it was a fun dog's day out.

Abbey, a 7-year-old Yorkshire terrier, was born in a puppy mill. Her owner, Bonnie Erickson, said at first the pup was terrified and didn't know how to play. Now, thanks to annual blessings, she's doing great.

"I feel like there's been divine intervention," said Erickson.

As for Perry, he found a permanent home that morning. Sharon Lawson and her son David Hanley adopted him.

"He's energetic and going to be lots of fun," she said. "I think he's perfect."

Correspondent Terri Bryce Reeves can be reached at treeves@tampabay.rr.com.

Blessing of the Animals is quite a howl at St. Matthias Lutheran 10/09/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 9, 2012 7:13pm]

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