The Reverend Donna Voteau-Missier, who has led the service for many years, says the weirdest pet she's ever blessed was a tarantula, which came to church in a little carrying case. Although she gladly touched the head of a snake during one benediction, the tarantula received no such gracious treatment. "I did not touch the head of that one," she admits. "I refused."
Venomous creatures aside, ministers gladly bless and anoint all the animals that show up. "I think that acknowledging the companionship that animals bring and recognizing that part of creation is really important," Voteau-Missier explains.
Usually, about thirty people bring pets to the service. Some animals get excited when they're surrounded by so much four-legged company, but Valley View's spacious lawn generally prevents this from becoming a problem. "We do it out there on purpose," Voteau-Missier says.
It must be remembered that this ceremony is intended to bring about greater harmony between humans and other creatures as well as to honor pets; the ceremony is not a substitute for obedience school. Voteau-Missier thinks that expecting a blessing to inspire a pet to behave is a little ridiculous. This is no sermon to remind pets that Honor Thy Master's Carpet is a commandment.
"You get funny stories where people are like, 'My pet was this way or that, and since the blessing, she listens.' And you think, Oh, come on." Voteau-Missier has pets of her own that attend the service annually, so she speaks from experience.
Vegetarians may be disappointed by Saturday afternoon's worship service because the blessing doesn't thank a creator for giving us domestic animals merely for companionship. "Blessed are you, O Lord of the Universe," the prayer proclaims. "You give us food from animals to replenish our energies."
Will the blessing get pets into heaven? Whether pets have an afterlife is debated between faiths. Catholics say ix-nay on the ets-pay, but various Protestant sects are more lenient. Patsy Ticknor, a deacon at St. Andrew's Episcopal Church, says she's not sure what the official word is, but she hopes and believes that pets go to heaven, adding, "I just can't imagine going to a heaven without pets!"