Today is the Feast of St Francis, who is sometimes only known as a sort of religious Dr. Doolittle who preached to the birds and wrote canticles to the sun and moon as well as wolves and other creatures. Many a garden sports a cement statue of St Francis holding a bird, sometimes with other woodland creatures perching on him or peeking out from around his robes. I had a lovely one in the back yard, but it got turned into a statue of John the Baptist after some squirrels jumping off of him caused him to fall over and be beheaded. The statue is still in my yard, although I did move it out of the general line of sight from the house.
Many churches host a blessing of the animals sometime around this date, and folks bring their dogs and cats and gerbils and rabbits and sometimes snakes or tarantulas or horses and goats to be blessed. I myself have blessed pets these last three Octobers; usually cats and dogs and the occasional rodent although this year I also got to bless some ducklings.
I enjoy seeing people with their pets. While it may be true that some people look like their pets or choose pets that look like them, I am often surprised at the people-pet matches among my parishioners. Someone will come along with, say, a Bassett hound and surprise me. What does not surprise me is how folks dote on their pets. I certainly dote on mine and figure everyone does. What I especially enjoy, though, is watching them unselfconsciously dote in the company of others.
My dad was the worst doter when it came to his dogs. For a while he had hunting dogs, even though he didn't really hunt much, and they were fairly well trained, I think. But after a while he started spoiling his dogs and putting up with their unbridled enthusiasm for chewing, jumping, running and generally getting into stuff. He had an Irish Setter that chewed all the plastic knobs off the car window roller-upper cranks and practically sat in his lap while he was driving. One of his Australian Shepherds used to go around the neighborhood and open people's UPS packages that were left on their doors; a Lands End jacket might show up in the garage, having been pilfered from the house across the street. Another Shepherd took the laundry off the next door neighbor's clothes line and left it on the ground. Pop would just laugh and claim that he would get back to training the dogs, but he never did.
St Francis was nothing if not disciplined himself. He gave away all his money, his inheritance, and even his clothes and dedicated his life to prayer and fasting and wandering about, preaching. I like it that such a seriously disciplined man was also so connected with the natural world, expressing joy in creation and joy for life. In a way, the people I see with their pets at the blessings of the animals, people I know to be folks with careers and orderly lives, remind me of St Francis in their joy and their desire for their pets to receive blessings at church.