By Ellen Edwards, Former Executive Editor, Penguin Random House
Oct. 5, 2016: Playful dogs, a burrowing hamster, and a disappearing rabbit made the annual blessing of the animals at The Reformed Church of Bronxville a joyful event on Sunday afternoon, October 2. Gray skies did not dampen the high spirits of those gathered on the grassy square of the church cloister as Rev. Cari Pattison, Rev. Samuel Clover, and Rev. Jonah Smith-Bartlett placed their hands on each pet and said words of praise and prayer. Owners received a certificate and a small medallion of St. Francis of Assisi.
Although the animals came to be blessed, their owners said they feel blessed by the joy their pets bring to their lives.
Susan Pink's female wheaten terrier, Crosby, age five, adds to the pleasure of coming home from work each day. “She’s at the back door, so happy to see you, greeting you with kisses,” Susan said. “She knows who walks and feeds her and loves her.”
Kristen Ridulfo said that her purebred pug, Idi, age 9, “makes me laugh, gives a lot of love.” At 18 pounds, Idi has a black coat and a double-curled tail. To Kristen, Idi’s especially good behavior that day suggested that “she might know it’s a special event.”
David Walker and his wife, Dale, have had their beagle, Johnny Walker, for eight years, and they take turns exercising him. According to David, “It's a great way to meet the neighbors.”
Paul Muir’s golden doodle, Sadie, 13 months old, could barely contain her excitement at the chance to romp with the other dogs. According to Paul and his friend, Jill, Sadie loves walking around Bronxville, eating ice cream, and swimming at Cove Beach in Stamford, CT.
Simon Ramsey and his daughter Angelina, age 10, said that their English springer spaniel, Winnie, is “always surrounded by a lot of kids” when she visits The Bronxville School. She gets an hour of exercise a day, often in Scout Field, where she loves to dig a hole and jump in it. Simon noted that “she’s very loving,” and Angelina added, “Even as a baby, she wouldn’t bite.” Winnie and her twin were the only survivors of a litter of nine puppies, which makes her extra special to the Ramseys.
For Fatima Viegas, her tiny Yorkshire terrier, Pippin, is “like my son. He gives me so much joy.” Pippin may have been the smallest dog there. Joe Griffith’s giant schnauzer, Black Jack, a salt-and-pepper beauty of 100 pounds, might have been the biggest.
Tiny white maltese Princess Diamond arrived with James Briggs Murray, but according to James, it was his daughter Nisha Alanya who insisted on getting the pet when she was a sophomore in high school, only to decamp to boarding school soon afterward. James attributes the dog’s longevity--she’s ten and a half-- to daily vitamins, a strictly organic diet, and a two-mile walk each day. Now that his daughter is a teacher in the Bronx, she considers Princess Diamond the family dog, while James still calls her “your dog.”
John DiDonato wasn’t able to be there, but his wife, Janet, proudly showed off their shiatzu, Mia, age 8, who sat up very straight in her arms and wore a knitted sweater. Janet called The Reformed Church “a very special place that has a special meaning for the three of us. It’s very loving and they welcome animals, which is amazing.”
Thomas Koester’s hamster, Lucy, who arrived in a blue and clear plastic carrying case, was his birthday gift about a year ago. His mother, Andre, said, “We have four boys and they can roughhouse and she’s very patient with it.” Lucy was so busy burrowing in her unfamiliar case, it took some effort to extract her for the blessing.
Rev. Sam Clover said the blessing of the animals often comes out of a Catholic or Episcopalian tradition. According to Clover, former pastor Rev. Dr. Kenneth Ruge initiated this event at The Reformed Church of Bronxville, which is affiliated with the Dutch Reformed Church. He may have been inspired by his former association with the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in Manhattan, where the annual blessing of the animals involves an elaborate procession of exotic mammals, reptiles, and birds.
In several traditions, the first Sunday in October is celebrated as St. Francis Sunday, which honors St. Francis of Assisi, the cleric from the late 12th and early 13th centuries who was known for his love of animals and nature.
As for that disappearing rabbit, it came and went before this reporter could get a glimpse. But several sources confirmed that a rabbit was present and did receive a blessing.
Pictured here: Angelina Ramsey, Jayleen Padilla, and Winnie (photo by Pat Drew); Paul Muir, Rev. Cari Pattison, and Sadie (photo by Jill Northrop); and Paul Muir and Sadie (photo by Jill Northrop).