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Blessing of Animals is Howling Success

I can’t imagine life without Luci, my apricot toy poodle who comforts me when she lays across my lap and warms my body and soul like a cashmere blanket, who pulls the sock off my foot and then tries to put it back on, who knows just how to cock her tiny head and peer at me with her chocolate brown eyes to get whatever she wants, who rests her chin on the corner of the Monopoly game board without ever knocking over a hotel piece on Boardwalk. Luci is my baby, my third child who’ll never grow up. She’ll always weigh less than a gallon milk jug. She’ll never tire of my kisses and cuddling. She’s my profile picture on my Facebook page, for Gosh sakes.

As all of us pet owners already know, animals are a gift from God. Remember, the word “dog” is God spelled backwards. So when I had the opportunity to bless Luci at a recent animal prayer ceremony at Congregation Shaare Emeth, I had to be there. After all, my little furry, four-legged companion deserves a special prayer that shows my gratitude for her boundless love and loyalty, even if she causes me aggravation when she runs across the street to eat cookie crumbs in my neighbor’s backyard.

So a group of us gathered on a chilly autumn morning in the temple parking lot while our best friends wagged their tails and sniffed each other. Instead of yarmulkes, the dogs donned blue scarves tied around their necks. The temple has hosted the annual blessing of the pets for several years, but this was the first time that all of the guests of honor were dogs. All of God’s creatures, by the way, are welcome, and in the past people have brought their cat, hermit crab, and even a stuffed teddy bear, says Rabbi Jim Bennett, who officiates the prayers for pooches.

“At first I expected mostly children to attend the animal blessings, but it’s interesting how many adults show up. Especially as we get older, we realize how important our pets are in our lives,” Bennett says before he leads us in prayer.

We say together: “May God who blessed our ancestors, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah, bless all the animals who are part of our lives—the dogs, cats, birds, fish, reptiles, and all other pets who live with us in our homes, who take care of us as much as we take care of them, who teach us the values of caring and compassion, and who bring joy into our homes through their unique personalities, who seem to have the uncanny ability to sit by us when we are sick and to jump up and down when we are well and ready to play, who never ask for much other than to be fed and whose constant companionship and friendship to us is a as strong and real as ours is to them. Thank you, God, for the wonders of your creation, which includes such wonderful animals who are part of our lives, and for directing these special creatures to our homes and to our care.”

These dogs come into our lives for a reason. Some are saved from abusive homes, others are certified therapy dogs who comfort the elderly and assist schoolchildren in reading. On this particular day, they represent a variety of designer breeds as well as mutts, from a Coton de Tulear, which is the royal dog of Madagascar, named Daisy Maxine, to an adorable pug named Henry, who was rescued from a puppy mill.

On this Saturday morning surrounded by colorful falling leaves of yellow, red, and orange, our diverse playgroup also includes Cody—a Cavachon, a mix of purebred Bichon Frise with the purebred Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, and Zach—a Morkie, a mix of a Maltese and Yorkie; Tucker, an English Springer Spaniel; Daisy, a Cockapoo, or a cross between a Cocker Spaniel and Poodle; Bailey, a Golden Retriever; Wiggins, a Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier; and Teddi, a Bichon Frise, whose pure white coat is as puffy as a cloud against the bright blue sky.

Pet blessings occur throughout the year but escalate in October during the celebrations of the Catholic Feast Day of Saint Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals, and World Animal Day. The origin of the Jewish ritual is not as obvious, but nonetheless has been sacred for centuries because the Jews always have valued animals. Plus, the blessing of animals coincides with the story of creation in the Torah, explains Leiba Levin, a first grade teacher at Saul Mirowtiz Day School.

“The Christians have a saint; the Jews have Noah’s ark when it comes to animals. In the Torah we just finished reading Parashat Bereshit, which is the story of creation. It’s a beautiful time of year outside when the leaves are changing, and it’s a time that we reflect on our everyday blessings. Having animals in our lives is an everyday blessing,” says Levin, who reaches down to feed Luci another doggie treat.

“Mishegas of Motherhood” is the creation of Ellie S. Grossman, a St. Louis freelance writer and stay-at-home-mom who never stays home. Visit her website at www.mishegasofmotherhood.com.