The Good Lord certainly knows that people love their pets.
Their devotion is especially evident each year around the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi when creatures large and small are brought forth for the annual blessing of the animals.
The Church of the Nativity on James Island was just one of many to welcome their four-legged, furry, finned or feathered friends.
“They show us love, and through their love they bring us closer to God’s love,” said Father S. Thomas Kingsley, pastor, as he spoke to the students and parents who attended the brief service after school on Oct. 4.
As if St. Francis himself was there, all the animals were perfectly quiet during the blessing, even the very large cat that clung nervously to his owner and kept a wary eye on the many dogs around him.
Karen Cellars said she brought Willie, a 1-year-old orange tabby, because you can never have enough blessings.
The younger crowd giggled as animals and people alike were doused with holy water. Afterward, the students ran around and showed off their pets to each other. Grant Lauer, 7, broke into a huge grin when he saw his mom, Elaine, and dog, Lola. Grant said he received Lola for Christmas one year and she’s awesome to play with because they tackle each other. Other children said they love their pets because they’re sweet and love to cuddle.
Sister Kathleen Kane, a Sister of St. Mary of Namur, said pets are wonderful at providing affection and companionship. She has two cats, Conway and Clancy, both 14.
Sister Kathleen is the pastoral associate at St. Francis by the Sea Church on Hilton Head Island. She said she developed a real love for God’s creatures when she was a missionary at a refugee camp outside Mexico.
The people there kept cats to control the mice and insect population. She said it was very primitive with only the natural lighting of the sun, or the stars and moon. Many slept outside in hammocks, going to bed and rising again with all God’s creatures.
“It was a very Franciscan experience, just falling in love with nature,” she said.
There are many stories of St. Francis, who is the patron saint of animals and ecology, and his interaction with animals.
One time, he quieted a flock of noisy birds during a religious ceremony just by speaking to them. Afterward, the birds remained quietly perched on their tree branches until his sermon was complete.
Another famous tale recounts how the saint tamed a wolf that had been terrorizing a village, killing animals and people alike. Francis spoke to the wolf in the name of God, and the animal lay down at his feet. Then it followed the holy man into the village, where it lived peacefully among the people for the remainder of its days.
St. Francis referred to animals and everything else in nature as brother and sister because he saw all of creation as equal children of God.
The relationship between animals and humans has been the source of exhaustive research, and findings bear out the belief that it is indeed beneficial.
According to the Center for Disease Control, pets can help lower blood pressure, cholesterol and triglycerides. They lessen our anxiety and loneliness, encourage exercise, and boost our immunity.
They can even help one find a date.
Studies show that pets also help with serious illness. People with Alzheimer’s were found to have fewer emotional outbursts, and HIV/AIDS patients were far less likely to suffer from depression.
Heart attack patients with pets survived longer than those without, and nursing homes that used companion animals as therapy saw a decrease in the use of prescription drugs.
Researchers have also been amazed at what dogs can be trained to detect in humans.
They can recognize signals prior to a seizure and alert the owner that it is coming. This gives the owner time to prepare, such as turning off burners and sitting down.
Dogs can also help people with Parkinson’s disease who suffer a condition known as freezing. This happens when the person’s feet suddenly stop moving. Medical experts don’t know how or why, but if the dog touches the person’s foot it breaks the freeze (www.peteducation.com).
Even more amazing, a dog in Florida named George can detect a particular smell given off by malignant melanomas. Studies show that George can sniff out this cancer with almost 100 percent accuracy.
Researchers at Cambridge University are now studying the use of dogs to detect the smell of prostate cancer in urine.