Luke, a 14-year-old poodle, and Toby, a 10-year-old Yorkie, usually receive their annual pet blessings at the University of St. Francis. After all, they belong to St. Francis alumni and parent relations manager Donna Eakle.
This year, however, alumni are hosting the blessing on Oct. 5 at Joliet Township Animal control so all the pets in the community can partake in the ceremony.
However, Eakle’s 6-year-old blond cat, Joey, will not join his canine “brothers” that day.
“The cat carrier is too stressful for him,” Eakle said.
Although the blessing itself — a reading of prayers and sprinkling of holy water — will take only a few minutes, the event’s perks may offer some other long-term benefit for pet owners.
For instance, Lost Dogs of Illinois will offer 50 free microchips to the first 50 pets that arrive, with a two-per-family limit, Joliet Township Animal Control director Sarah Gimbel said. The agency then will offer discounted microchips — for $15 — to pets still needing them.
While the pet blessing begins at 10 a.m., the microchips, as well as glimpses of the new outdoor play area for shelter dogs, will be available until 1 p.m.
“The majority of our outdoor fencing is done,” Gimbel said of the play area, “so people will be able to see the progress.”
The deeper meaning of the pet blessing is that the ceremony perhaps makes people aware of God’s grace in their lives through their pets, said the Rev. Peter Jankowski, pastor at St. Patrick Catholic Church in Joliet.
Jankowski will perform the blessing with the “help” of his basset hound, Rusty Joe Troublemaker.
“It’s important for people with pets to bring them to receive this blessing,” Jankowski said, “so people will know that what’s in their homes are gifts from God.”
This will be Jankowski’s first pet blessing outside of his parish. Many Catholic churches host similar blessings near the Oct. 4 feast day of St. Francis of Assisi, patron saint of animals, he said, especially churches connected with schools.
“I usually tell people to bring their dogs, cats, tarantulas and boa constrictors to the parish and we’ll have a little service,” Jankowski said.
A second appropriate occasion to host a pet blessing, Jankowski said, is Jan. 17, the feast of St. Anthony the Great. Like St. Francis, St. Anthony was devoted to animals.
“Most people don’t want to bring their pets out then,” Jankowski said, referring to the wintry weather that usually prevails in January.
Pet blessings may be most familiar to Catholics, but individuals espousing Buddhism, Jainism and Hinduism believe animals have souls, Jankowski said, and that one should respect all creatures, including pets.
“They are part of God’s presence in our lives,” Jankowski said.
That presence manifests itself in various ways, such as in the commonalities between pets and prayer, he said. For many people, prayer helps heal the body by calming the mind. Pets, Jankowski said, can do the same.
Children responsible for the day-to-day care of their pets — feeding, watering and walking them — learn the difference between power and authority, Jankowski said.
God gave people authority over the Earth, Jankowski said, yet pets also serve people through their unconditional love and not just because of authority, he said.
“It’s a great life lesson,” Jankowski said.
Blessings for the pets of University of St. Francis employees is a longstanding tradition, said Eakle, who has attended annual pet blessings over the nine years she has worked for the university.
“We buy little treats and Milk-Bones,” Eakle said, adding that treats will be part of the blessing at Joliet Township Animal Control, too. “The majority of us here own pets. We’re a very animal-friendly school.”