More than 30 pets received blessings at the first Blessing of the Animals ceremony at SPCA Florida last Friday.
First United Methodist Church in Lakeland has been hosting the ceremony for nearly five years, but because the church was undergoing construction this year, the ceremony was hosted at the SPCA Florida Campus in Lakeland.
Most of the animals in attendance were dogs with at least three cats present.
In the past, other animals have attended including iguanas, alligators, parrots, macaws, rats, turtles, and horses, Lakeland Police Department Chaplain Lee Lallance said.
The Polk County Sheriff’s Office Animal Services also participated with a few shelter animals and local law enforcement K-9 teams.
Pet-related vendors such as Southern Paws Pet Resort and Promise Pet Care were present to show their support and to promote their services to pet owners.
Blessing of the Animals ceremonies are held in October around the feast of St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals and the environment.
Before the event, the front lawn was erratic as animals frolicked and played, but upon the start of the event, all became silent as they sat patiently next to their owners.
In his opening remarks, Lallance referenced Genesis 1:26, which speaks of human beings having dominion over the animals and the earth.
He used the scripture to support his message about how pets can experience communion with God through our relationships with them in the same way human beings experience communion with God through their relationship with Him.
“We are gathered together here to bless the animals here today that He has given us to be our friends and companions, and by doing so, we are honoring them,” Lallance said. “We are acknowledging that they are part of God’s creation, and that they have just as much right of being here as we do.”
Lallance himself has been the proud owner of a King Shepherd, Ollie, for three years.
He enjoys events like these because it helps others affirm their loving relationship with their pets, and in doing so, they honor God.
“We’re called to care for these animals, we’re called to look after them as well as the environment,” he said. “So it’s a neat opportunity that these animals can have to establish that relationship and hopefully find some homes for the ones that are still here.”
Following his opening remarks, pet owners lined up with their pets before a tent that was set up in front of the lawn where Lallance, along with First United Methodist ministers Cory Brett and Ed New, blessed them.
Upon receiving their blessings, each pet and owner received a certificate of blessing along with a bag of treats.
While most pet owners had their pets in attendance for their blessings, others like Ann Pellegrini presented pictures of their pets.
Her son, Ethan, presented a picture of their golden retriever, Sophie, who had received surgery the previous day.
Her mother, Martha, brought along her 5-year-old retriever mix, Hogan, who, like many of the other animals in attendance, had been adopted from Florida SPCA.
The Pellegrinis had previously attended the Blessing of the Animals at their church, St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Lakeland.
“It was nice to have all the dogs together and getting along quite well,” Martha said.
Overall, the ceremony experienced a satisfactory turnout, especially for one held on a weekday, SPCA Florida Community Relations Manager Jessica Lawson said.
“I was surprised that people were able to make it out,” Lawson said. “Next time we might look at a Saturday so more people can participate.”
She hopes that future events experience larger turnouts, and she encourages all pet owners to attend, even those who do not necessarily consider themselves religious.
“People consider these event as super-religious, but it’s more of a way to honor our relationships with the animals that we love and really bring attention to the fact that they all deserve love and care,” she said.