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At St. John's, Animals Consider Themselves Blessed

Although it wasn't literally raining cats and dogs, Saturday morning, it seemed that way at St. John's Episcopal Church in Centreville.

Actually, they were the guests of honor when their owners brought them there for the annual Blessing of the Animals. And although rain shifted the event from outdoors into the fellowship hall, the animals were more than welcome.

"I THINK it's really neat," said Kate Simon of Centreville's Willoughby Woods community. "People get blessed — why not animals?"

And that's exactly what the Rev. Howard Kempsell, rector of St. John's, did. Looking each beloved pet in the eye, he prayed: "Most high, omnipotent, good Lord, bless we pray, [the animal's name] and their caregivers, that they may faithfully live together in this life and in the age to come, life everlasting, amen."

The event is held in remembrance of St. Francis of Assisi, the Patron Saint of Animals, and his love for all creatures. Besides being blessed, each animal also received a medal of St. Francis and was welcome to partake of a variety of pet snacks. And everyone was entertained by animal-related songs performed by some members of the church's children's chorus.

Simon brought her 2-year-old Labrador/golden retriever mix, Ladson, with her. And her husband Erik brought his Great Dane/German Shepherd mix, Savannah, 2. "I've always wanted to do it, but it happened in Charleston — where we just moved from — after we left," said Kate Simon. "These are our kids for now, and a blessing can't hurt them."

Amanda Kwieraga, 12, a seventh-grader at Stone Middle School, brought her carin terrier, Emily, who's also 12. Said Amanda: "It's a good thing to do because she'll be protected under God and Jesus."

Patrick Morris of Sully Station II, plus sons Max, 6, and Colin, 4 1/2, brought their dog Bud, a German Shepherd/Sharpei. "We're members of this church, and Bud needs all the blessings he can get," explained Morris. "He chews on things he's not supposed to." Besides that, added Max, "He poops and pees on the carpet."

Lisa Sharabi of Chantilly's Waverly Crossing community, came with daughters Brittany, 7, Paige, 11, and Ashley, 6, plus Boots the cat, a 4-year-old, black-and-white tabby. Said Sharabi: "We come every year to keep him protected for the year ahead."

Pleasant Valley's Robyn Ramsey brought a gigantic, cuddly, Bernese mountain dog named Cassie, 4, who she was babysitting for a friend. She was there because her group, Education for Ministry — a Thursday-night class at St. John's — organized this year's pet blessing.

Even the rector's dog received a blessing Saturday. Kempsell's wife Anne brought Mango, 3, who — weighing all of 11 pounds — she jokingly described as "a bruiser of a Yorkshire Terrier."

"WE NAMED her after the guy on 'Saturday Night Live,'" she explained. "And she was really orange as a puppy — the color of a ripe mango. She's been sick a lot this summer, so I figured a blessing would help keep her well through the winter. She's high-strung but, whenever my husband holds her, she calms down."