As the owner of a mixed breed rescue dog who turned nine on Oct. 1, Rose Hayden-Smith celebrated her pet’s birthday by having him blessed with holy water during a blessing of the animals at Saint Paul’s Episcopal Church in Ventura.
“Today is her birthday,” Hayden-Smith said of her pet, Winifred, who she adopted from the Canine Adoption and Rescue League nearly eight years ago.
Hayden-Smith, of Ventura, was among approximately two dozen people who participated in the blessing that takes place once a year in October. Many churches host this special blessing in honor of St. Francis of Assisi, who was known for his vow of poverty and his special connection to animals and creation.
“St. Francis is one of my favorite saints and that whole idea of a peaceful kingdom we could use more of,” said Hayden-Smith. “What animals teach us about compassion and unconditional love is just extraordinary. We are blessed to have them.”
The blessing of the animals at Saint Paul’s Episcopal Church was overseen by Rev. Susan Bek, who splashed holy water on each pet with a sprig of rosemary. The event included guests singing in unison to the song, “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands.” They also read passages of Genesis chapter one, and the prayer of St. Francis of Assisi.
“We ask your blessing upon our pets and all the animals of the world,” Bek said during a group prayer. “We pray for those here with us, those at home, and all those who have passed.”
Other pets that received a blessing at Saint Paul’s included a guinea pig, turtle, cat and two rats.
Marilyn Beattie, of Ventura, brought her desert tortoise named Lou.
“He was born on my husband’s birthday and my husband passed away a couple years ago,” Beattie said. “I just thought it’d be nice for little Lou here to have a blessing.”
Kayleigh Weber brought her cat, Simba, who was rescued from the Ventura County Animal Shelter. The girl attended the event with her father, Ethan Clark, of Oxnard, who brought his two pet rats, Katie and Scarlett.
“We were bringing the cat and I said the rats deserve to be blessed, too,” said Clark.
Earlier in the day, Bek blessed animals at walk-up locations at El Camino Real Park in Ventura and Pet Food Express at The Collection at RiverPark in Oxnard.
St. Paul’s blessing of the animals joins similar efforts taking place this month countywide.
On Oct. 4, Westminster Presbyterian Church will host a blessing of the animals at 4:30 p.m. in the prayer garden at 32111 Watergate Road in Westlake Village.
Guests unable to bring their pets are invited to bring a photo of their animal or a picture of an endangered species. Donations of canned dog or cat food will also be accepted for distribution at the Manna Food Bank in Thousand Oaks.
On Oct. 9, a Blessing of the Shelter Animals will take place at noon at Ventura County Animal Services, 600 Aviation Dr. in Camarillo. The public is invited to bring photos only of their pet.
On Oct. 23, the Center for Spiritual Living in Ojai will host a blessing of the animals during its 10:30 a.m. service, which meets at the Ojai Valley Women’s Club at 441 E. Ojai Ave. The event will include different activities, such as an animal communicator and a CPR class for animals, as well as a memorial service for pets that are deceased.
“People can bring pictures or stuffed animals and well-behaved pets,” said Marilyn Miller, of Ojai, the center’s spiritual director.
“We’re all creatures of Mother Earth,” Miller said. “Native Americans thought of themselves as part of nature they didn’t think of themselves as separate — they just felt they were part of creation and that’s what we think about animals. They’re part of creation and, of course, they play a special role to people as special members of the family.”