Holy terrier? Canines line up for blessing

Published 12:01 am Monday, October 3, 2011

NICOLE ZEMA/THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — The Rev. Darian Duckworth of Grace United Methodist Church in Natchez blesses Gypsy, a rat terrier owned by Vera Hawes, Sunday afternoon at the annual Blessing of the Animals event on the church lawn. Approximately 20 dogs, and several animal photos, came to receive blessings.

NATCHEZ — Church went to the dogs Sunday, as approximately 20 canines gathered in Natchez to receive divine blessings.

The annual Blessing of the Animals event at Grace United Methodist Church, in its third year, occurs the first Sunday in October.

Other Blessing of the Animals services occur at Catholic and Protestant churches around the world, and the Rev. Darian Duckworth said she’s glad the church can host a blessing locally.

Duckworth met with each animal, touched their heads, and prayed, “Bless, O Lord, this pet, and fill our hearts with thanksgiving for his being.”

Sometimes Duckworth added blessings that the pets will, “behave for all your days.”

Vera Hawes of Natchez brought her energetic but affectionate rat terrier Gypsy to be blessed.

“We’ve been every year,” Hawes said. “I think it’s a really nice thing. It’s a good chance to get out with other pets, and hey, prayer never hurts.”

Jay and Kathy Fitch brought Minnie Mae, a red “chaweenie” dog, for a blessing.

Minnie Mae is a miracle herself. Jay said she ran out in the road in front of Kathy — who happens to be on the board of the Natchez-Adams County Humane Society.

“You could say Minnie Mae flagged Kathy down,” Fitch said. “So the shelter lady ended up adopting her. She’s one of several dogs we’ve adopted.”

Fitch said while the event is lighthearted and fun, there is a deeper spiritual purpose.

“We have deep faith, and believe all of God’s creation is special,” Fitch said. “This is a way to celebrate Minnie Mae coming into our home, our family, and also God’s family.”

Duckworth said it was the NACHS that came up with the idea to have a Blessing of the Animals locally.

Other pet owners, such as Dotty Stubbs, couldn’t bring their pets, so photos were blessed instead.

Stubbs produced a small photo album full of pictures of two of her cats, Sneaux and Spot. She also brought a framed photograph of the LSU tiger, Mike.

“I don’t think he needs any help,” Duckworth joked.

The day commemorates St. Francis of Assisi, who Duckworth said is known as the patron saint of animals.

Catholic theology teaches that St. Francis preached to man and critters alike the universal ability and duty of all creatures to praise God, and the duty of men to protect and enjoy nature as both the stewards of God’s creation and as creatures themselves.

It is said that, one day, while St. Francis was traveling with some companions, they happened upon a place in the road where birds filled the trees. Francis told his companions to “wait for me while I go to preach to my sisters the birds.” Legend has it that the birds surrounded him to listen.