Lisa Stiller's goose isn't cooked. But it is blessed.

While two of Stiller's dogs were among the nine canines who were brought Sunday to St. John's Lutheran Church on Highland Avenue for an annual pet blessing service, Stiller also was accompanied by a hive of bees -- she has nine colonies that she and her father raise -- and a 15-year-old goose called O.G., for Original Gander.

For the Rev. David Snyder, St. John's pastor, cats and dogs comprise the majority of the yearly turnout for the service. But blessing a goose turned out to be no problem.

"May the Lord bless you, the one who has been a faithful pet for many, many years," he told the bird. "May you continue to bring joy and peace to your owner and as you watch over the flock of all those gathered in your care."

The annual pet blessing, Snyder explained, is done in honor of St. Francis of Assissi.

"He was a lover of animals and thankful to God for all the blessings in his life," Snyder said. "And that has translated into a tradition that we’ve done here at St. John’s now for six years in a row. The church has done it for centuries. We gather those animals that are precious to us, part of our everyday lives, and we offer thanks to God for their presence in our lives and ask God to bless them.

"The point of the blessing is reminding ourselves of God’s blessing in our lives of putting this pet there. Yes, our pets will pass in and out of our lives, just like when we pray for our family members, they will still pass away, but we ask God to bless them and to be their lives. It’s mainly acknowledging God’s presence and God’s love."

And yet, he said, sometimes something truly amazing does happen. Snyder recalled a pet blessing three years ago when a couple asked for prayer for their dog, which was experiencing health problems that veterinarians had been unable to diagnose or treat.

“Three days later, I got a call from the couple who said the animal had coughed up, or passed — I don’t recall which — a chew toy that it had swallowed and they thanked me for healing their dog. I was humbled by that.”

Stiller came looking for something like that herself.

"I never did it before," she said of the pet blessing, "and I thought if anything needs blessed, it’s definitely my colonies, my hives. Every year we lose a couple more. We try to get them back through the summer but it’s kind of heart crushing when they go. I’m thinking maybe getting them blessed might help them winter through."

Placing his hands on the box containing the bees, Snyder noted that "without them, we would not have our food. Continue to guide them, keep them safe from chemicals, weather and blights."

Another first-time visitor was Jo Anne Altmyer, who came with her two-year-old Goldendoodle, Hazel.

"I saw it in the paper and it just warmed my heart, thinking that there could be a blessing for my dogs," she said. "I saw it last year, I think it was in the paper, and I put it on my phone as a reminder because it was something that I wanted to do."

Then there was Linda Griffith with Gunnar. Griffith tries to bring one of her two dogs to the blessing each year.

Gunnar seemed happy to be there, licking Snyder's face as the minister told the animal "Bless you and the care of your humans, that they may enjoy them and they may continue to enjoy you and that God may continue to care for you."

 d_irwin@ncnewsonline.com

Editor

Dan, editor, started with The News in 1978 and spent 10 years as a sports writer. He's been a general assignment reporter, copy editor, paginator and Lifestyle editor. He's a '78 Slippery Rock University graduate with a B.A. in English.

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