Fluffy the turtle was just one of about a dozen pets to be blessed during the Trinity United Church of Christ's second annual "Blessing of the Animals" service Sunday, Aug. 10.
Meghan Dahm, 9, held the turtle calmly in her lap as the church's pastor, Janis Doleschal, stood over the girl and her pet.
"Fluffy, may God bless you, and may you have a long, safe life of loving your family," Doleschal said, placing her hand on the turtle's shell.
Dahm held out a bottle of hand sanitizer to the pastor after the blessing.
"You never know where he's been," the little girl laughed.
The Trinity United Church of Christ, 4435 N. Calhoun Road, held its first animal blessing service last year, after other UCC churches began to host similar events.
Before the annual pet service, Doleschal said she plans to continue blessing pets during the Elmbrook Humane Society's Wagfest.
"Pets are a part of our family, and so they should be a part of the family in a spiritual sense, too," Doleschal said. "From my perspective, we have a responsibility to love all God's creatures and care for them."
Meghan Dahm came with her mother, Kathy, her grandmother, Donna Brill, and her two sisters, Emily and Sarah. They are all members of Trinity United.
The family adopted Fluffy about 17 years ago, Kathy said, but had no clue how old he was at that moment.
"We have no idea how old he is," she admitted, but the age didn't matter when it came to receiving a blessing. "He's a part of our family, so why shouldn't we have brought him to this unique service?"
Donna Brill brought her two black Labrador retrievers, Allie and Jessie, to the service as well. After her husband died in 2006, Brill said the dogs became a support system for her.
"They've been such good buddies," Brill said. "If I start to cry, I have two dogs to help comfort me."
Such emotional bonds between owners and their pets are clear indications of unconditional love, Doleschal said.
"More and more, researchers are finding out what pet owners already know: that our pets do have a capacity to feel and to love us back," she said during her sermon. In turn, "we love them unconditionally ... and care for them as our children."
Doleschal has three dogs of her own, but they're a little too rowdy and impatient to sit through a service, she said, "but I bless them at home all the time."
Visitors will sometimes drop by during these animal blessings, even if they are not affiliated with the church, Doleschal said.
"The people love it," she said. "I think people with pets connect with other people with pets. So when your hear of a church offering a service geared to pets, people feel more connected."
After Sunday's service, most of the Dahm family's pets had been blessed — except for the fish.
"(Meghan) is talking about bringing the fish next year, but I'm not quite sure," Kathy said. "Blessing them might get a little tricky."
For more information about Trinity United, visit TrinityBrookfield.org.
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