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Vancouver church blesses pets to commemorate St. Francis of Assisi

The Rev. Scott Dunfee and his wife, Suzie Dunfee, passionately sang an opening hymn. Sharing the couple’s joy was their cocker spaniel, Rylee, one of several dogs who licked their owners’s faces throughout the song.

The pastor led a blessing of the pets during a service Sunday at Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church in Vancouver, 12513 S.E. Mill Plain Blvd. The blessings were part of a commemoration of Friday’s feast day for St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals.

“We thank you for creatures that nourish and serve us, befriend, enrich, entertain and protect us,” Dunfee read during a prayer. “May we, who are made in your image, care for them well, as did your faithful servant Francis, whom we remember today with joy and thanksgiving.”

Before the blessings, Kirsten Larsen, the church’s director of youth and family ministry, read the story of Noah’s Ark during a children’s sermon. Fittingly, as Larsen announced what she was about to read, one of the children pointed out what he remembered most from the story.

“Oh yeah, Noah’s Ark has all of the animals!” he said.

Just before the blessings, Dunfee recited a prayer that worshippers believed might come in handy: “Help any furry creatures that need to be still for a while.”

When the time came, pets and their owners made a single-file line in front of the altar. Stephen Janzen, an organist and choral accompanist, played “(How Much Is) That Doggie in the Window?” Prior to each blessing, the pastor asked worshippers to refer to their pets as “brother” or “sister” before their name, one of Saint Francis’ customs.

One of those pets was Roxie, a 12-year-old white golden doodle.

“Lord, bless little Roxie, and fill her with the light and love of the lord,” the pastor said as Roxie enthusiastically stared at him.

Roxie has always been an energetic dog, said her owner Hilary Heizenrader of Vancouver. With age, though, Roxie has had trouble walking after injuring her knee. Despite the ailment, her energy is apparent.

“We like the blessing for her health,” Heizenrader said. “She blesses our lives every day with her passion and joy.”

A few moments later, Heizenrader looked down at Roxie, who was resting on the ground. The dog returned the gesture — tongue fully outside of her mouth.

“What do you think, killer? You ready?” Heizenrader asked.

Still sprightly, Roxie got up and, once again, walked alongside her family.


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