BY SUSANNAH BRYANSOUTH FLORIDA SUN SENTINEL
DANIA BEACH — A special kind of flock lined up for a blessing from Father Joe Spina on Sunday — pets of all kinds, with their owners in tow.
The crowd was mainly canine, but a few felines also came out for a splash of holy water and a little prayer under a tree outside the Humane Society of Broward County in Dania Beach.
Similar “blessing of the animals” ceremonies were held around the world this past week in honor of St. Francis of Assisi, the Catholic Church’s patron saint of animals.
Bella the Dachshund arrived in style, wearing a red dress and riding in a pet stroller to her 10th blessing, one for each year of her life.
“I took her for the first time in 2008,” said owner Rita Tortora, of Dania Beach.
A hand reached out to give Bella a pat on the head. It was Father Spina, perusing the crowd before the ceremony got under way.
“Are we waking you up?” he asked the sleepy-eyed girl.
Bella’s owner answered with a laugh: “This is her naptime.”
Nearby, creatures great and small gathered around. There was a Yorkie named Shelby, two Shih Tzu pals named Dylan and Zoe, a greyhound named Jade, a wiggly pug puppy named Chevy and a hairless Sphynx kitty named Stitch who came with her Havanese brothers, Harry and Waffles.
“St. Francis saw all of nature as part of God’s gift,” Father Spina, who leads services at the Parish of Saints Francis & Clare in Wilton Manors, told the gathering.
He’s been performing the ceremony at the shelter every year since 1997, spreading hope and faith to pet owners who come out of curiosity or for some deeper reason.
On Sunday, he had swag for each pet, gifting them with a medal of St. Francis to wear on their collar.
After the ceremony, Pompano Beach resident Pattie Duffy held on tight to Dylan, her 15-year-old Shih Tzu.
“Every day I wake up and say, ‘Thank you Jesus for another day with Dylan.’ He’s my joy and happiness.”
Oakland Park resident Diana Eustice brought her Cocker spaniels Scarlett and Rhett.
It was the first blessing ceremony for both pups.
Rhett is in good health, but two-year-old Scarlett is suffering from renal failure.
“She goes for IVs but she’s not in pain or suffering,” Eustice said. “It’s a miracle I still have her.
I count my blessings every day.”
Susannah Bryan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 954-356-4554. Find her on Twitter @Susannah_Bryan.