We learn from our pets, and in Summit County it seems we are a learned lot. As our nation seeks out approaches to reduce increasingly alarming levels of stress, studies show we really don’t need to look much further than Fido to find quick and meaningful relief. From easing elevated blood pressure to simply prompting us to step outside for a stroll, we owe much to our furry, feathered and even scaly friends. No elaborate experiments were required to confirm one recent study’s conclusion that many folks feel their pets are far keener listeners than their spouses. Just one look into the adoring eyes of our dog confirms the fact she appreciates my anxiety over our household disarray on an entirely different level than my spouse. (Or, well, maybe she just figures she’ll get a treat).
Last Sunday, a local church devoted the morning to pet appreciation. The whole affair coincided with the feast day of St. Francis, the patron saint of animals and the environment. Francis was born in 1181 (or so) and lived a relatively short life by our standards, passing away in his 45th or 46th year. While his early years were devoted to living large, by the time he was in his early 20s, Francis lost his taste for high living, abandoning riches in favor of spirituality. By all accounts, including the legacy he left behind of Franciscan schools, societies and the like, this guy was no ordinary preacher. Never officially ordained, his affinity for nature and the environment resonates centuries later, and extends to our beloved animals.
Blessing animals has a long history in many churches, including this particular congregation where, in years past, creatures ranging from aged tortoises to slightly agitated horses have gathered on the front lawn to receive the blessing. The event typically is accessorized by an apropos backdrop of fall colors of nearly suffocating beauty. This year was just a tad bit different, however, as the animals didn’t have to wait in the car but instead were invited inside, taking a seat on the pew, right next to their owners. I’ll admit to some skepticism as I watched the world’s largest cat enter the sanctuary already crowded with copious canines, all overseen by a nearby chirping canary. While I imagined a scene reminiscent of the lyrics for the song “there was an old lady that swallowed a fly,” the cat, as one might expect of the largest feline on the planet, was appropriately aloof.
The pets, as pets often do, settled into their surroundings, and the people took center stage celebrating the lessons learned from their distinguished guests. The preacher took the sanctuary microphone in hand and toured the pews, asking young and old to tell their pets’ tales. One young man proudly displayed his newly acquired hamster, Ted, explaining in detail the effort that goes into keeping Ted content. But it was the older gentleman holding an iPhone sitting next to the young boy that captured my attention. Although his pet could not attend, thanks to technology the man was able to hold up a picture of one pretty white kitty. She was his companion, acquired during his wife’s fight against pancreatic cancer. His wife had lost the battle, but the cat provided a shared link to his lost love, and comfort in his sorrow.
The pets then were invited front and center, each to receive an individual blessing in a bit of well-orchestrated chaos. While the animals made their way down the aisles, the people remaining in the pews turned to each other sharing stories, laughing — and crying — together in a way I don’t recall witnessing before in the middle of a Sunday service. It occurred to me then that the adage fighting like cats and dogs clearly had been dispelled, replaced instead by a lesson in unconditional love, the simple message that is the soul of the church, well taught by the visitors in attendance. All in all, I think Francis might have enjoyed the fun.
Cindy Bargell is an attorney and mom how lives outside of Silverthorne with her husband and two daughters.