It was part pet shelter, part people sanctuary Sunday at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church.
Elcie the tarantula didn’t move a furry leg. Pippin the hedgehog rarely blinked a beady eye. As for the Irish wolfhounds Jake and Kestra – combined weight 350 pounds – both were as quiet as church mice.
Dogs, cats, chickens, fish, hamsters, mice, frogs, crabs, turtles, birds, Elcie and Pippin joined their owners at the South Hill church on 24th and Grand for the annual blessing of the animals. With one pet for every three people, it felt like the only creature missing was a praying mantis.
“People love it,” the Rev. Richard Finch said as congregants and their pets peacefully filled the pews. “So far, so good.”
It was the 20th year Finch presided over the service, which recognizes St. Francis of Assisi’s feast day. St. Francis is the patron saint of animals and the environment. His feast day is Oct. 4.
This year’s celebration went equally smoothly for the 395 humans and 128 pets who attended the hourlong service. Many members commented how the event has grown in popularity, evident in the overflow of people and pets that filled the choir area and the church narthex.
“If you have your 5-year-old and your dog, I salute you,” said Kevin Benson, director of youth ministry, during the worship service. After prayer and communion, pets received individual blessings by the Revs. Finch and Beth Jarrett. Many dogs were leashed, while most cats were carried in traveling cages. One Chinese Crested pooch arrived in a handbag. Some pets – such as Elcie the tarantula – took in the morning activities from inside a ventilated plastic box.
“Is that really your pet?” dog owner Gretchen Dauenhauer asked Elcie’s owner, Michael Kugler.
Kugler, who named his pet after his high school (Lewis and Clark), admitted his creepy-looking arachnid can’t do any tricks, but added, “They’re cool to look at and watch them eat.”
While Elcie was one of the smallest creatures to receive Finch’s blessings, Ed and Laren Winkey’s Irish wolfhounds were recognizably the largest. The couple said when the mild-mannered dogs are up on their hind legs, they are about 7 feet tall from tail to nose.
“They are not pew dogs,” said Ed Winkey, who gave his pets plenty of space by arriving early and sitting in an open spot.
Added his wife: “I think it’s fun to have dogs come to church once in a while.”
Same can be said for bringing a couple of chicks to church.
Speckles and Jenny Byer got the nod in Jeff and Connie Payne’s household. The Airway Heights couple has 12 chickens, three sheep, three ducks and two dogs. Connie Payne said the sheep are too big, the dogs have been blessed before, so his year, it was Speckles and Jenny Byer’s turn.
“We love our chickens and we get to show them off,” Connie Payne said while admiring her pets as her husband carried the caged animals into the church.
And like a child on performing cue, Jenny Byer outdid herself. Moments after the birds were blessed, Jenny Byer laid an egg. As it turned out, the collection plates weren’t the only things handed around.
“It was so unusual. … being in the cage with everyone watching. Everyone wanted to see the egg so we ended up passing it around,” Connie Payne said.
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe now to get breaking news alerts in your email inbox
Get breaking news delivered to your inbox as it happens.