Animal Blessing Ceremonies Honor Pets, Saint Francis

Many churches are hosting animal blessing ceremonies in honor of St. Francis of Assisi. Here's how one city celebrated

BY: Pia Sarkar, San Francisco Examiner

 

San Francisco (Oct. 1)--What looked like a pet show was actually a blessing in disguise.

About 100 pet owners brought their dogs, cats, birds, iguanas, and yes, even a cashmere goat, to Saturday's 11th annual animal blessing at St. Boniface Church in the Tenderloin to honor St. Francis of Assisi, patron saint of San Francisco and caretaker of the ecology.

"We are all one family under God," said the Rev. Floyd Lotito, who sprinkled holy water on dozens of animals gathered outside St. Boniface Church with their owners holding on tightly to leashes and cages.

Lotito extended special blessings to those pets too ill to come, wishing them a speedy recovery and good health.

"Every year I'm impressed by the animals," Lotito told the crowd. "They really are, like St. Francis said, our brothers and sisters.... The way you treat animals reflects the way you treat others."

Along with the blessing came a request by church officials for donations to finance a city-ordered seismic retrofit. So far, the church has raised $10 million of the $11.6 million needed.

Mounted police arrived Saturday looking for blessings for their horses. German shepherds arrived with the police K-9 unit.

San Francisco Police Officer Gene Kalinin brought Karlo, a 6-year-old German shepherd who works in the K-9 division and sniffs out bombs and criminals.

"He finds the bad guy," said Kalinin, who works with the bomb squad, SWAT team, and K-9 divisions.

Karlo is Kalinin's third police dog in 12 years.

"They are the best partners we have," Kalinin said.

Typically, police reserve Labradors to sniff out bombs and German shepherds for chasing criminals, but Karlo can do both, Kalinin said. The husky German shepherd looks for explosives in executive hotel suites of dignitaries before they check in.

On Saturday, Karlo wasn't feeling too friendly and growled at a golden retriever passing by.

"He's usually not like this," Kalinin said apologetically to the owner of the retriever.

San Francisco Police Officer Bruno Pezzulich, who works with the mounted police, was tying up his horse, Shadow, a 12-year-old Tennessee walking horse, who received his second blessing of the day--the first one from St. Paul's Church in Noe Valley, which held its third annual animal blessing.

Kimberly Pirring, 9, of the Tenderloin, brought her hamster in a plastic container to St. Boniface.

"It's just a baby, and I wanted him to get blessed," said Kimberly, as she looked adoringly at her 4-month-old hamster, named Ham, whose sex seemed to be a matter of doubt within the family.

"I like her because she's nice to us," said Kimberly. "Every time we see her, we feel better."

Her brothers, John, 8, and James, 7, said they chose the name Ham because it seemed logical.

"We couldn't pick 'Ster' because that doesn't make sense," James rationalized. "Anyway, he looks like a Ham."

Cathy Clark, 57, of Noe Valley, cradled one of her two 10-year-old Shih Tzus in her arms as she waited to have them blessed.

"They're very sweet, gentle, mellow. This is the first time they've come for a blessing," said Clark, who inherited the pair from two elderly ladies who were moving into a senior center and didn't want the brothers separated.

Clark gladly took them in. She said they reminded her of her 15- year-old dog, Freeway, who died last December. Clark said she used to bring Freeway to the blessing every year.

Linda Alston, 50, of Berkeley, has a special fondness for her 7- year-old dog, Murphy. Alston relies on Murphy for her daily routines.

"He's my service dog. He carries things that I need during the day and pulls my wheelchair," she said.

Susan Imanian, 55, of the Tenderloin, had her cat, Rusty, in a cage, ready to have him splashed with holy water. Rusty was the only one of her three cats to survive a fire that destroyed the Hartland Hotel a year and a half ago.

"The white cat was the one I could save," Imanian said. "I wanted a special blessing." Imanian said she lost everything in the fire, including sentimental items like her child's first tooth and report card. Saving Rusty made the animal all the more precious to her.

Carol Blaha came to St. Boniface with a 4-month-old alpaca--cousin to the llama--and a 4-year-old cashmere goat, two animals she raises in Sebastopol for their hairs.

"I can't bring the whole herd, so he's representing them," said Blaha of her alpaca, named Chaucer.

Le-Ellis Brown, a San Francisco animal control officer who attended Saturday's blessing, said he was pleased with the turnout.

For the most part, San Franciscans are kind to their animals, Brown said. "The majority are responsible, but there are some who don't care about their animals at all," he said.

Brown said he has seen some dogs left out in the rain, and others tied up in backyards with their fur completely matted.

But none of them were to be found in Saturday's crowd.

"The pet owners we see here are the responsible pet owners," he said. "And I think it's amazing that there is this amount of people wanting their pets to be blessed."

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