Columbia residents bring their pets for animal blessing

Sunday, July 20, 2014 | 5:36 p.m. CDT
Columbia residents gathered at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Columbia on Sunday morning for the 16th annual animal blessing service. Attendees shared stories of their pets, either present at the service or in memorial, and there was a tribute to former Central Missouri Humane Society director Mary Pat Boatfield, who died in June.

COLUMBIA — Calvin kayaked in the Missouri River. He swam in the Pacific Ocean. He even climbed mountains in Colorado.

Calvin is Barbie Reid's three-year-old toy poodle.

"We go out adventuring all the time," Reid said. "I take him everywhere. When I go to the grocery store he sits in the baby seat of the cart. When I ride my bike, he sits in the little basket and when the wind is blowing really fast, his ears fly up."

Reid took Calvin to the 16th annual animal blessing service at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Columbia on Sunday, where members of the church and visitors of any religion told stories about their pets or gave small tributes to pets that had passed away.

This year's service was in dedication to Mary Pat Boatfield, the former executive director of the Central Missouri Humane Society, who died June 18. A video played in honor of Boatfield, showcasing people enjoying the company of their pets with the song "When Somebody Loved Me" from "Toy Story 2" playing in the background.

"She was not a member of the church, but she was a guest speaker to our church," said Marianne Erickson, service leader of the Unitarian Universalist Church. "Her leadership was very important and she kept the organization running very positively. It's sad that she is no longer with us." 

Erickson started the animal blessing service 16 years ago, shortly after she and her husband moved to Columbia from Cincinnati. Before living in Ohio, Erickson lived in Bloomington, Ill., where she belonged to a Unitarian church that had an animal blessing service.

That gave her inspiration to start an animal blessing service in Columbia. She's been the leader of the services ever since.

Erickson said the animal blessing service really devotes itself to the beliefs of Unitarian Universalism, what she said is an earth-centered religion that pays attention to all creatures of the earth.

"The life of being a pet owner is really significant, particularly for people whose children are all grown up, people that never had children and the elderly," Erickson said. "It is a big part of getting to know each other through their pets in the community."

To Reid, Calvin is significant. When it was her chance to share, she carried Calvin in her arms to the altar. She placed him on the podium and told the story of the first time she saw Calvin when he was a little puppy.

"He was just a little bigger than my hand," Reid said. "He was kind of like a Beanie Baby."

Later, after the attendees had shared their pets, it was Erickson's turn.

She shared her five-year-old black and white cat, Murray, who was named after the main character from the movie "A Thousand Clowns."

"Murray is on a diet, he eats too much," Erickson said. "He also goes outside in the yard, and because he is on a diet, he hunts moles. He's caught 13 moles this calendar year. That's a good thing because the moles tear up the yard."

The service was in honor of all the wonderful people who share a special relationship with their pet, Erickson said, pointing to the pink and white blanket covering the podium that read:

"All Things Bright and Beautiful. All Creatures Great and Small."

Supervising editor is Mary Ryan.

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