Blessed are the animals
It was just like any other church service but this time the patrons came with their fuzzy, feathered or four-legged friends.
Duke University Chapel held its worship service for the Blessing of Animals on Sunday afternoon. In front of the university’s chapel, pet owners and their pets sprawled out on the quad with blanket and folding chairs to have their pets blessed.
The Blessing of Animals service has been held annually at Duke since 1989 on the Sunday closest to Feast Day of Saint Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals. Over the years the animals range in species and size. This year the service was given to mostly dogs and cats.
“Simply put, we love our pets,” said the Rev. McKennon Shea, director of admissions for Duke Divinity School. “They are sources of goodness and joy, laughter and compassion. They are a part of God’s plan.”
Shea is the owner of a rescue dog, 6-year-old Lucky. A lover of animals himself, Shea said that this service was about more than just the animals.
“It’s a good way to connect with the community and for the people to feel a connection to the church,” he said. “It’s just affirming to see pets mean a lot in people’s lives and for us to let them know that there is room for them in the church.”
Another segment of the community was brought in with the Durham Children’s Choir. The group performed several songs at the service and some brought their pets.
Suzy Johnson came to the service with her 1-year-old golden retriever-keeshond mix, Andrew Griffith, also known as Andy Griffith. After losing Chloe, Johnson’s dog of 14 years, she waited a month before being introduced to Andy.
“He came to me after I lost Chloe. She was a sweetheart,” Johnson said. “But he has brought joy and companionship to my life. We bonded really quickly. He gets along with people and dogs. He’s just become a big part of my life.”
Johnson used to bring Chloe to the annual service. This year she brought Andy.
“It’s a wonderful thing that they do for these animals,” Johnson said of the Blessing of the Animals. “We all want to know that our animals will be there when we get to heaven.”
Danny and Becky Wall brought their two miniature dachshunds, 2-year-old Baby and 8-year-old Little. With their dogs in their arms like children, the Walls waited for the blessing to begin.
“It’s a tradition for us to bring them over here,” Danny said. “They’re such a part of our family.”
Russ Ames is a second-year master of divinity student at Duke. With his black poodle Sophie in tow, Ames explained how important Sophie is to him and to others.
“Sophie is a therapy dog,” Ames said. “She comes to school and serves the staff and faculty. Pets show us who’s invited to the Kingdom. When you get home how does your dog respond? They jump for joy. I think, maybe that’s how God reacts when we talk to him. He jumps for joy.”
One animal who drew a crowd Sunday was Spongy, recently dubbed Spongaline. The Toulouse goose was recently discovered to be a female when she started laying half-pound eggs, said her owner Jane Kendall.
“November 29 will make two years that I’ve had her,” Kendall said.
Kendall said that she and her husband originally adopted a male and female goose from Indian Trail. When the adopted goose laid eggs during the wrong time of year, they knew there was a chance there could be problems.
Spongy’s neck isn’t straight and long like her siblings. Instead it twists around and down. Kendall said that her goose isn’t in any pain from her neck but she does draw attention.
“When we saw her we knew we had to save her,” she said of Spongy. “The next day I was driving to Raleigh to get her acupuncture. She is so very special. She has her own personality.”
Spongy has great vision, Kendall said, and she even goes to the refrigerator whenever someone opens it and begs for spinach.
“They just give us so much love back,” Kendall said. “I can’t imagine life without her.”