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Saunders column – Blessing of the animals

As fall begins to arrive, people in some places may notice something a little different. It is not Noah’s Ark, but it is a procession of animals ó everything from dogs and cats to hamsters and even horses and cows, as they are led to some churches for a special ceremony called the “Blessing of the Animals.”
This custom of blessing animals is usually conducted in conjunction with the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi (Oct. 4), and commemorates St. Francis’ advocacy and love for all of God’s creatures.
God gave human beings dominion over all things; “the fish of the sea, the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth” (Genesis 1:28). These creatures are a gift from God and bless our daily lives. They continually show us God’s grace and love. So, we have a deep affection for our furry, feathered or finned friends. And while we know communication between humans and creatures seems to be simple and basic, the bond of love between person and pet is unlike any other relationship we will ever experience. Eye-to-eye, a human being together with his or her companion animal, are two creatures of love.
It is interesting that the figures from the National Pet Owners Survey (NPOS) show pet ownership is currently at its highest level. Sixty-three percent of all American households own a pet of some sort. This equates to more than 71 million households. Americans own approximately 74.8 million dogs, 88.3 million cats, 142 million freshwater fish, 9.6 million saltwater fish, 16 million birds, 24.3 million small animals and 13.4 million reptiles. No wonder people enjoy the opportunity to take their animal companions to a church for a special blessing. After all, church is the community where the bond of creation is celebrated.The annual blessing of the animals is a simple service focused on offering praise and thanksgiving to God for the animals God has placed in our lives. It offers individuals with pets, and animal lovers of all ages, the opportunity to reflect upon the positive impact animals have on our emotional, physical and spiritual well-being.
Individuals of all faiths are invited to bring their pets and companion animals, properly restrained, to Christ Episcopal Church, 3430 Old U.S. 70, Cleveland, on Sunday at 3 p.m. for the Blessing of the Animals.
The Rowan County Humane Society and the Faithful Friends Animal Sanctuary will be on hand to offer care advice and have animals available for adoption. This annual event attracts a wide variety of animals and their human friends. All are welcome. Go to www.christchurchclevelandnc.org for directions. The Rev. Ken Saunders is an Episcopal priest and serves as rector of Christ Episcopal Church in Cleveland.

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