Harvey the baby squirrel and Dinky the donkey were two of the stars of Unity of Delray’s blessing. Photos provided

By Arden Moore

How have you adapted this year to this never-ending pandemic? Perhaps you have groceries delivered to your front porch. Or you host weekly happy hours not in bars, but via Zoom. Maybe you’ve converted your spare bedroom into your office.

As the months pass, we pine for things we took for granted, like munching on buttered popcorn inside a crowded movie theater or tailgating before a big football game.
But if you look closely, you can notice acts of creativity and resiliency that COVID-19 has been powerless to prevent.

Case in point: For the first time since launching the blessing of the animals service 21 years ago, the Rev. Laurie Durgan, of the Unity of Delray Beach church, got the opportunity to bless an unprecedented variety that included Dinky the donkey, Harvey the squirrel, a homebody cat named Miss Puma and a pair of black swans.

In years past, Durgan looked forward to petting, giving treats and saying prayers directly to well-mannered dogs, cats and the occasional turtle or bearded dragon present at this special blessing held every October in honor of St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals.

Rather than cancel the blessing due to the heightened health precautions during the pandemic, Unity of Delray Beach opted to make it a virtual event and open it to any and all critters anywhere.

Places of worship all over Palm Beach County and beyond got creative to bless animals. Some elected to celebrate by staging drive-up prayer blessings. At St. Joseph’s Episcopal Church in Boynton Beach, the Revs. Martin Zlatic and Mary Naughton delivered blessings to pets in vehicles.

“When we decided to go virtual, I knew I would miss all the kisses from the animals and the way I smelled after the blessing of all the animals, but this time, I am able to open up the avenue to bless far more than before,” says Durgan.

Indeed. Instead of blessing 30 to 50 pets who showed up at the church, Durgan blessed more than 140 who walk, swim and fly, from all over, during a recorded ceremony now posted on YouTube.

They included:

• A rescued baby squirrel named Harvey. In late August, Terry Capuano and her grandson, Jayce, of Delray Beach, found a newborn squirrel who was barely alive. She contacted a nurse friend who gave her a formula recipe and instructed her to keep the squirrel on a heating pad for warmth.
“Even though we thought of keeping Harvey as a pet, we knew the most humane thing to do was to nurse him back to health and bring him to the Busch Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in Jupiter where he could live and socialize with other squirrels,” says Capuano. “As he began to eat and grow stronger, he became very lovable and would burrow into my neck to cuddle.”
They found this squirrel in need on Aug. 28, the 19-year anniversary of the death of Capuano’s brother, Marc.
“This virtual event was a blessing in disguise,” says Capuano. “I miss my brother every day and I think he had a part in this squirrel showing up and needing us to keep us from being sad on the date of his passing.”

• Dinky the donkey plus about 30 goats, birds, swans, horses and more who reside at Toby’s Legacy Critter Creek Ranch in Palm City.
Tim Morell, president of the ranch, heard about Durgan’s virtual blessing and sent photos of many ranch residents. They included Dinky, a protective sort who alerted him about a mini horse that fell off a bridge into a creek and was rescued. Morell also asked to include in the blessing a special dog named Sparky, who passed away in July at age 12.
“Spark was a Doberman and a service dog who would often go to the library for kids to read to him,” recalls Morell. “When I suffered a broken neck in a vehicle in 2013 and had to wear a medical halo, Spark would never leave my side during my recovery. It feels so great to include Sparky in the blessing.”

• A senior cat named Miss Puma. “There is no way I would have even tried to take her to the blessing of the animals because she definitely does not want to leave the house,” says Judy Somers, of Boynton Beach, who has attended Unity of Delray Beach for 25 years. “I mean, my veterinarian does house calls to care for her because I cannot get her into the car. Miss Puma comforts me and has been a blessing for me during this pandemic. I am grateful she got to participate in this year’s virtual event.”
Brenda Robinson, of Boynton Beach, again coordinated all of the requests for blessings of pets, wildlife, birds and more this year. She initiated the animal blessing at the church in 1999 with Lidia Leith, who now lives in Tampa.

“Because we had to go virtual due to the pandemic, there were unexpected blessings,” says Robinson. “Rev. Laurie was able to bless many more animals of all types from everywhere. And because we posted the blessing on YouTube, many more pet owners were able to see what a blessing of the animals is all about.”
Never underestimate the power of the pets, especially during these challenging times. Every day, I count my blessings who happen to answer to the names of Bujeau, Kona, Emma, Casey, Rusty and Mikey.


Watch the virtual blessings

As a special tribute to the virtual blessings of all animals, living and deceased, here are two videos from the Unity of Delray Beach church provided by Brenda Robinson, of Boynton Beach.

A preview of the variety of pets, wild animals, birds and more who were blessed: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l38Tp

The link to the virtual blessing ceremony performed by the Rev. Laurie Durgan: https://youtu.be/3_JqGWzdnm4


Arden Moore, founder of fourleggedlife.com, is an animal behavior expert and host of the Oh Behave! show on petliferadio.com. Learn more at www.ardenmoore.com.

E-mail me when people leave their comments –

You need to be a member of The Coastal Star to add comments!

Join The Coastal Star