Variety of pets attend church services for spiritual cleansing

by Mike Wereschagin

The bells of the Basilica of St. Mary in downtown Minneapolis sang out through the cool, crisp, bright September air Sunday, greeting the assembled multitude of … dogs.
To be fair, there were a number of cats, a few ferrets, the odd caribou, a porcupine or two, one potbellied pig and a gopher along with the canines. And when the doors of the Basilica opened, every last one accompanied his or her owner inside for a healthy dose of religion.
Yesterday was the fourth annual Blessing of the Animals at the Basilica of St. Mary, St. Mark’s Cathedral and the Hennepin Avenue United Methodist Church. Devout pet owners from across the Twin Cities brought the furrier members of their families in for some spiritual cleansing.
At the Basilica, this event has been a tradition for the last 15 years, said the Rev. Michael O’Connell. The basis for the event, however, goes much further back, he said.
“In old times, when most people lived on farms, their livelihood rested on their animals,” O’Connell said. “To safeguard them, they would get them blessed.”
He paused to watch a young boy pull a beaver past him in a small wagon, smiled at them both, and continued.
Today the details might be a little different, he said, but the heart of the event is still there.
“These people love these animals and care for them very much,” O’Connell said. “They like the idea of having them blessed.”
Chris Addington of Minneapolis agreed.
“My animals need it,” she sighed, referring to her two Siberian Huskies, Angel and Pooh-Bear, who at that moment were straining their leashes in formidable attempts to take off in opposite directions.
Throughout the 45-minute service, including readings from the book of Genesis and a speech delivered by Chief Seattle in 1854, sharp barks punctuated the remarks of the choir, the readers and O’Connell. Only a collie seemed fully engrossed in the mass as she stared attentively forward from her spot in the nave. Occasionally, she would cock her head to one side, presumably mulling over something particularly thought-provoking.
The other pets were too preoccupied with the crowd to notice the attempt to save their souls. An albino ferret tempted fate by getting a large black lab to pull its leash tight, whereupon the ferret nosed up to within an inch of the beast’s salivating mouth. A potbellied pig watched intently as its owner pocketed the bag of treats he had brought along. The caribou stood nonchalantly to the side and managed to look bored.
As the service ended, man and animal exited the church and marched to Loring Park to join the congregations of the other two churches. They were greeted by green and white tents standing over tables of food and displays of the 14 animal groups in attendance. The band Ingapirca played center stage in the park, though the focus was always on the animals.
With a timberwolf, a black bear and several cougar kittens, as well as dozens of more conventional breeds of animals, it was little wonder why.
Festival newcomers Angie Porter and Keeli Doyle were pulled to the park in the wake of their eager golden retrievers, Beara and Bantry. It was the first time at the celebration for all four of them.
“I’ve heard about this for years,” Doyle said. “I wanted to come to see all the different kinds of animals, but I had no idea it was going to be this big.”
Porter agreed, adding, “I can’t believe they let all those dogs in that church.”
It impressed them enough to make them want to repeat the trip next year.
“Definitely,” Doyle said. “I really want to come back.”
“Me too,” said Porter, straining to keep Beara from chasing down a pair of greyhounds. After a reflective pause, she added, “I think I’ll bring my parents’ miniature Schnauser.”
Mike Wereschagin welcomes comments at wereschagi[email protected]. He can also be reached at (612) 627-4070 x3226.