About 20 dogs, a few cats and a tiny turtle brought their families Sunday out to a church service designed to bless the pets and their caretakers.
For the past couple of decades, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church on College Street has held the annual Blessing of the Animals ceremony on the Sunday closest to the celebration of the Saint Day for St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals and ecology.
Held outdoors in a small park off Appleton Avenue, local celebrity canine AC Pup served as one of the hosts for the event, which also raised awareness for the dogs and cats who come through the Macon-Bibb County Animal Shelter each year.
“We work with animal control to help the 6,000 animals that come through each year,” said Patti Jones, the immediate past president of Central Georgia Cares, a nonprofit animal rescue group.”
Jones said the group helps the shelter by contributing food, kitty litter, cleaning supplies and other material. Some of those items were brought by church members Sunday to help with that effort.
The Rev. Hal Weidman became the priest in charge of St. Paul’s a couple of months ago and said Sunday’s ceremony was the first time he had led such a service, though he’s been a participant in the past.
“It’s a great experience,” said Weidman, who has two Boykin spaniels named Nelly and Reese and a domestic cat named Nate. “I’m an animal lover and an environmentalist in a past life. Every time there’s a chance to help God’s creatures and educate people to be kinder to our (pet) companions, I take the opportunity.”
The ceremony lasted about 10 minutes and was based in large part on a service created by the Anglican Society for the Welfare of Animals in the United Kingdom.
Vernon Ryles, a long-time member of St. Paul’s, said he has taken part in the ceremony for as long as he can remember. His hound/beagle mix, Blu, has taken part ever since he got her 12 years ago.
“It’s a nice thing to do,” he said. “These animals are our best friends. ... We’re almost inseparable.”
Ethan and Misti Tonn, of Monroe County, brought their twin 4-year-old girls, Hayden and Walker, to the ceremony for the first time, along with their cats Max and Maggie and their turtle, Simon.
“(The twins) said their pets had to go to heaven,” Ethan Tonn said.
Jones told those in attendance about AC Pup’s Facebook pages and the threefold mission of Central Georgia Cares: to promote animal adoption, spaying/neutering and education about animals.
“This is a great fit for us and for the church,” she said.
To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.