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A spotted tortoise named Pumpkin crawls in the grass outside Holy Spirit Episcopal Church. A dainty Chihuahua-Pomeranian wearing a striped sweater mingles with other diminutive canines under a tall tree in the church's courtyard. A betta fish swims in a pasta sauce jar decorated with greenery, rocks and holes poked in the lid, making it the swankiest temporary tank on display outside the Sixth Street place of worship.

As you may have noticed, this is not the typical crowd at Holy Spirit. On Oct. 6, it was a bunch of pets—and their devoted owners, of course—who took to the pews for an annual blessing of the animals. The sacred day occurs in conjunction with the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals.

Saint Francis had a reputation some 800 years ago as a radical who could put Greenpeace and PETA to shame. Some credit St. Francis with being among the earliest trailblazers of the modern-day environmental movement, as he believed nature was a mirror to God. He also believed all creatures have souls, and would preach to them as his "brothers" and "sisters."

Barbara Munro, 65, came to the event with her 4-month-old cairn terrier named Rowan, who is training to be a service dog. "If they don't go to heaven, I'm not going either," she says.

Dewey Worth, 90, brought a stuffed animal. It looks like a bull with its horns pulled back, and has a yellow sticky note taped to its head that announces its name is Billy Duke. "He's what you might call my inner child," Worth says.

Amy McGovern is the one watching over Pumpkin, the tortoise. Pumpkin has a penchant for wandering off, so McGovern hopes the blessing will bring her pet "safety and longevity." Just then the tortoise makes a beeline for Sixth Street, prompting McGovern to retrieve her. "And people say they're so slow," she says.


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