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Temple Beth Shalom honors role of furry (and scaly) friends

Dozens of dogs, shy cats, a tortoise and even a boa all played nice Sunday at Temple Beth Shalom – until the rabbi’s dog started barking, turning the temple’s first pet blessing into a chorus of canines.

The event is “a way to bring people together in a more unusual way and to give thanks to the role animals play in our lives and in our world,” Rabbi Michael Goldstein said.

Goldstein’s cockapoo, Odie, joined the crowd that included one very nervous guinea pig. Adding to that concern was Naomi Weitz, who brought her 15-year-old Dumeril’s boa. The large snake curled around Weitz’s arm as excited dogs paced around their owners.

“She is the last of our living animals. We used to have a lot,” Weitz said. “We figured she really needed a blessing. Plus, she doesn’t get out that much. She needed a field trip.”

And no, Vespertine the snake did not have a role in the demise of the other pets. Vespertine does just fine on frozen jumbo rats, once they’re thawed.

“She’s worked up,” Weitz said of her snake. “She can smell all these animals.”

While Temple Beth Shalom had its first pet blessing Sunday, it comes a week after several area churches had their traditional pet blessing services in honor of the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi.

About 200 pets and their owners attended the pet blessing at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church last week, said Elaine Orness, the church’s former administrator.

“It was packed. It’s amazing how well the animals do in one space,” she said. “We even had a tarantula. It’s getting more popular every year.”

Goldstein said Temple Beth Shalom’s event followed readings Saturday of Noah and the gathering of the animals before the storied flood.

“It gives us the opportunity to educate ourselves and make it a live lesson for our children about the responsibility to be good stewards of our world,” he said. “This is a good hands-on way to make that message.”

Noah Simone, 37, brought his bassador – a cross between a basset hound and Labrador retriever.

“We named him Zero because he has zero clearance to the ground,” Simone said of his 10-year-old dog. “He’s the mellowest one here. Being in a home with four girls, he definitely needs a blessing.”

Dan Lepow brought his Neapolitan mastiff, Gomez. The solid 180 pounds of dog dwarfed most of the other pets.

“He is easily as mellow here as he is at home. It’s so nice when the kids can play with him and not be afraid,” Lepow said before whispering: “Don’t tell the bad guys.”

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