Many of the furrier congregation members sniffed each other, licked themselves, panted, hissed, and marked their territory on Sunday morning during an outdoor church service at the stage in Marion Central Park.
While such wild behavior likely would be frowned upon in normal human churchgoers, it was to just another day in the life for their family pets.
Clergy couple Ross and Amanda Baker, pastors at Eastmoor and Valley United Methodist churches, led the joint “Blessing of the Animals” service.
“We invited people to bring their pets, so we could offer their pets a blessing recognizing not only the bond relationship and bond an animal has with its owner, but the relationship and bond the animal or pet has with God,” Pastor Ross Baker said.
People also brought pictures of pets and pet collars for blessings.
Blessing of animal or pets services are typically celebrated around Oct. 4, which is feast day for St. Francis of Assisi, who was said to love all of God’s creatures, Ross said.
“This tradition more commonly takes place within Catholic or Episcopal churches,” he said, “but a growing number of Protestant churches around the country are now celebrating it, too.”
Nancy Kline and Ramsey, her Cornish Rex cat, have attended similar services at Wichita United Methodist Church.
“Ramsey is a little annoyed by the dogs, but he’s very dog-like and he’s used to it,” Kline said. “A service like this happens every year at our church in Wichita, only it’s inside and some people bring snakes.”
There were no serpents at Sunday’s service in Marion but there were many well-loved dogs and cats in attendance. Some had seen hardship, some helped owners through tough times, while others were just cute and cuddly, or foolhardy and ornery.
Marion residents Al and Gloria Ash brought their dog for a blessing.
“Jackie is part lab, part shepherd, and part human,” Ash said. “She was farm dropoff and now she rides in the back of a Cadillac.”
Jackie and the Ashes recently survived a serious accident while traveling in Reno, Nevada.
“She was sitting next to Gloria in the backseat during the accident,” Ash said. “Jackie tumbled around, and the pad on her right paw was nearly cut off. Someone found her wondering around on the highway and took her into the vet.”
Jackie and her owners were reunited after they all received respective medical and veterinary attention.
Marion resident Eileen Sieger brought Toby, a West Highland white terrier, to the service to receive a blessing prior to an upcoming surgery.
“Toby has an eye wart that needs to be removed before it starts causing more problems,” Sieger said. “Toby is a special dog. When my daughter Lesley lost her husband in 2008, Toby was right there comforting her through it. It was dog therapy.”
Abby, a black cat, also attended with Marion resident Lyn Blackmore.
“Abby is not having a good day, she’s a little hissy,” Blackmore said. “I wanted to bring her because I just love her so much. She is such a source of comfort for me.”
Sandi Swanson, of Marion, brought a pair of Teacup Pomeranian dogs.
“Pocco Osso is the black one and Cotton is white,” she said. “They’re husband and wife.”
The doggy couple was the first pair of Teacup Pomeranians Swanson and her husband owned.
“We bred dogs for years,” Swanson said. “But when my husband died in 2009 I sold all the other dogs.
“This will be Pocco’s and Cotton’s first blessing,” Swanson said. “I thought God would want it.”
Near the end of the service, pastor’s Ross and Amanda each blessed their fair share of pets, while several dogs met their blessings with gracious licks.