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A blessing to owners, animals receive blessing

By Mark Wineka
mwineka@salisburypost.com
CLEVELAND ó Bill Russell and Claudia Register brought their whole menagerie: a bluetick hound, three Italian greyhounds, a Chihuahua, a rabbit and three Tennessee walking horses.
They left their bull at home.
Why bring the animals to an annual “Blessing of the Animals” at Christ Episcopal Church Sunday afternoon?
That’s simple.
“Because they’re a blessing to us,” Register said.
Dogs, cats, rabbits, horses and a fish took advantage of a patient Rev. Kenneth H. Saunders III as he blessed each of them individually and collectively on a beautiful afternoon outside the main sanctuary.
“I believe I got everybody and everything,” Saunders said as he finished the individual blessings that took about a half-hour. He then closed the ceremony with “The Blessing Prayer,” a hymn (“This Is My Father’s World”) and the benediction.
There were plenty of complimentary dog biscuits to go around after the service.
It’s difficult to have a blessing of the animals without a reference to St. Francis of Assissi, the late 12th century-early 13th century monk known for his love and advocacy for all of God’s creatures and creations.
There are many stories of him conversing with and blessing animals, Saunders said.
The custom of blessing animals often occurs in conjunction with the feast day of St. Francis of Assissi, which was Saturday.
Kaytlynn Saunders, the vicar’s daughter, brought the family’s three cats, Hemi, Holley and Edelbrock ó names that have a connection to cars.
“My dad and my brother are motorheads,” Kaytlynn explained.
The three cats were strays, which Kaytlynn believes make the best pets.
“They’re the sweetest kind unless they were absolutely abused,” she said.
Kaytlynn wouldn’t miss the annual Blessing of the Animals.
“It’s really fun,” she said, “because you see all the different kinds of animals and what people like.”
Brayden Haglan, 3, made sure his parents, Ryan and Leighann Haglan, brought his fish.
The Haglans also brought Lincoln, a bearlike Great Pyrenees who had been rescued by a group in Winston-Salem. Now Lincoln has been with the family seven years.
“He’s the most awesome dog,” Leighann said.
The Haglans, with the help of daughter Alee, also brought cats Snowball and Stripes and rabbits Zip and Zackie to the blessing.
Beau Butterfield, 5, listened to the ceremony astride his horse, Pretty Boy, a 22-year-old quarter horse who is a former show champion and part of the family.
“He’s a good horse,” Beau said, leaving no room for argument.
Mary Ventura’s constant companion is Kayley, a part chow dog who will be 3 years old soon. Ventura adopted her from an animal care clinic in Salisbury and has looked after the dog since it was 13 weeks old.
“She’s my baby,” Ventura said.
Karl Barber and his 11-year-old Corgi, Max, also received Sunday’s blessing. Max feels comfortable on the church property because he usually accompanies Barber on their trips to clean the church.
“He’s a little on the lazy side, to tell you the truth,” Barber said, describing how Max likes to sleep under his truck while he works outside at the house.
Banjo, the bluetick hound belonging to Register and Russell, was adopted from the Rowan County Humane Society many years ago. When he was found and rescued, Banjo had “a very nasty wound” from his collar’s being imbedded into his neck, Humane Society President Jane Hartness recalled.
Hartness, who attended the blessing at Christ Episcopal, couldn’t believe it when she saw Banjo at the ceremony Sunday afternoon. It represented another success story for the Rowan Humane Society as the organization soon begins its 35th year.
What was it like to see Banjo flourishing after all these years?
“I got very emotional,” Hartness said.

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