On the sunny morning of July 7, approximately 40 dogs — and one guinea pig — and their owners gathered in a shady park across the street from Our Lady of the Isle Church for the annual “Blessing of the Pets” ceremony.
A tradition for close to 20 years, the ceremony involves an individual blessing for each pet, a group blessing for all of the pets, and lots of prizes, which range from “shortest legs” to “best tail wagger.”
“Every dog gets a prize,” said Father Peter DeSanctis, pastor of Our Lady of the Isle, who walked around the park greeting pet-owners and sprinkling their dogs with holy water.
“We sprinkle holy water on the pets asking the Lord’s help for them. The blessing directly applies to the pet owners, so it’s intercessory prayer — ‘to intercede’ means ‘to ask for,’” he added.
The event is ecumenical, open to both members and non-members of Our Lady of the Isle and the community at large. It was organized by parishioners Betsy Auricchio and Bill Seeberg, who explained that the blessing ceremony marks The Feast of Saint Francis, who is the patron saint of ecology and animals. It is traditionally held on October 4, but Our Lady of the Isle holds it in July to accommodate the people who come to Shelter Island in the summer.
For many pet-owners, the blessing was a family affair. The Williamson family’s three-year-old Italian greyhound, Leo, was “very nervous” for his first blessing.
“He’s a pretty good boy, but we’re hoping he’ll be a better boy now,” Mr. Williamson said .
Marie Buscemi, a longtime parishioner who is “not related to Steve,” brought Antonio, a pure chihuahua rescue, for his fourth blessing. He hoped to make another go at the prize for “Best Behaved,” which he has won in past years, according to Ms. Buscemi.
When asked his favorite part of the ceremony, Mr. Seeberg said, “I just love seeing the kids and their dogs. All dogs go to heaven anyway.”