Reverend Brenda Barnes gave and received kisses after delivering her Sunday sermon.
The pastor applied a kiss, along with anointing oil, to the animals that were cooperative, as she led the annual pet blessing from noon to 2 p.m. at the New Hope Presbyterian Church pavilion in North Huntingdon.
“They are offered near Saint Francis of Assisi, October 4,” said Barnes. “Francis was known to preach to animals because humans didn’t want to listen. He felt that all of creation needed to know the love of God.
Most of the 17 animals Barnes blessed during the first hour of the event were dogs. Some of them responded with their own slobbery signs of affection.
She also offered a repeated blessing to Flash, a Eastern box turtle it is the responsibility of church secretary Tracy Winzek now that Winzek’s son Brent is in New York. The family has owned the turtle for about 18 years.
Turtles typically live 25 to 35 years, but have been known to survive for over a century.
“It’s a family heirloom in a tank,” Winzek joked.
“I have blessed horses, goats, sheep and chickens,” in addition to cats, hamsters and guinea pigs, Barnes said. “The most unusual blessing in New Hope was a few years ago – Sebastian, the bearded dragon.”
Among the canine majority on Sunday was Ali, a 4-year-old Beagle mix owned by Amtrak retiree Susan L. Galik.
“She’s a reason to get up every day,” Galik said of her beloved pet. “She loves going to daycare and White Oak Dog Park. She loves to play.
Stella, a 4 year old therapy dog who is part Pug and part Jack Russell Terrier, also came for a blessing. She was brought in by owners Jeannie Sonnenberg and Scott Baldridge from North Huntingdon.
“We visit medical facilities, personal care homes, retirement homes, youth groups and religious groups,” Baldridge said. “She finished reading with autistic children. We recently started visiting first responders and veterans.
“When you put that (therapy dog) vest on her, she calms down.” She loves to be stroked and loves to give kisses.
Humans were also served during the event, as the church donated flu shots.
Donations were collected for the benefit of the Humane Animal Rescue of Pittsburgh Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in Verona, which displayed the barn owl Cecilia during the blessing event.
The organization received the bird after being struck by a vehicle. One of its wings having had to be amputated, it could not be put back in the wild and became an animal ambassador of the group.
Barnes said his church regularly makes charitable efforts on behalf of the wildlife rehabilitation group.
“In the past, we would collect paper towel rolls, toilet paper rolls, Kleenex boxes and other cardboard ‘houses’ for animals in their care,” she said. “We also support financially.
“Our goal is to educate these organizations, generate interest and hopefully adoptions,” Barnes said.
“New Hope has become a Certified Wildlife Habitat through the National Wildlife Federation, and we are in the process of becoming an Earth Care Certified Congregation.” she said. “We believe that all of God’s creation is important and we have an obligation to care for all of God’s creatures, human and non-human.