St. Francis of Assis is the patron saint of animals and the environment.  In celebration of St. Francis, every October, churches all around the world have blessing ceremonies for pets and their owners.  I have attended several pet blessing services around the country and they are all fun events.  One of the really great things about them, besides seeing the variety of pets, is seeing the owners in a very different light. It is a very calming event and you really experience the gentler side of people. The announcement of this year’s pet blessing was recently made by one of the ministers at my church. 

It is well know the minister making the announcement has a major aversion which would be best described as an object terror of snakes. He has mentioned his fear of ophidians many times over the years and the subject has always been a stern but humorous addition to each year’s announcement of the annual pet blessing. It is pretty clear to everyone as long as he is doing pet blessings, snakes were not welcomed at the event. Not that he had anything against snakes or those who owned and loved them, but he just didn’t want them around him. For some reason, his statement resonated in the brain of a certain veterinarian who will remain nameless.

During the sharing of peace and well wishes amongst the congregation, the veterinarian in question gave the minister a hug and whispered in his ear, “If you bless and handle a snake this year, I’ll make a $300.00 donation to the church.  I’ll supply the snake and the check.” Although a bit taken aback by the offer, the minister announced the challenge had been made and was under consideration just before the offering. After all it was all for a good cause. Surprisingly another minister announced if the donation was increased to $500.00, he would kiss the snake.  Caught up in the moment, the veterinarian sprung to his feet and shouted “You got it!” By now, I am sure you know the veterinarian inciting the mischief was me. After services, the challenge and amounts were confirmed and handshakes were exchanged to seal the deal. As we shook hands, I could see the fear in my minister’s eyes. He was actually deathly afraid of snakes. The pet blessing was a week away.

The next day, I got to work finding a snake. It wasn’t difficult. A few calls were made to clients and within 15 minutes I had found not one, but two snakes. Both ball pythons, Monty is 5 feet long and Pepsi is 3 feet long.  They had been used many times in photo shoots, so were used to being handled by strangers and being in crowds. This was perfect I thought, but in the back of my mind I couldn’t help but keep envisioning the fear in the eyes of my minister. Who was I to challenge anyone to face a primal fear? The challenge was all in good fun, but had it been taken too far?

The next day I contacted the ministerial staff. I expressed my thoughts and concerns, understanding if they didn’t want to participate in the challenge.  I even offered to make the donation, no strings attached.  I was thanked for my concerns and generosity, while being assured the ministers would follow through on the challenge. What I didn’t know was the challenge had taken on a life of its own. Additional monetary pledges had been made, tripling the original contribution amount.

The day of the pet blessing arrived and things went off without a hitch.  The event was very well attended and fun. There were lots of cameras present to the point of describing it as a paparazzi would not have been an overstatement.  The two snakes made a fashionably late but noticeable arrival as they were removed from their traveling bags. The ministers fulfilled the challenge with lots of encouragement and more than a bit of trepidation. The fearful expressions were on their faces, but as they got into the spirit of the moment, smiles became easier and there was even laughter, all be it nervous laughter. A good time was had by all and a nice donation had been raised for the church.

So how do we top this next year? May be a king cobra?

Dr. Pierre B. Bland is a small animal practitioner who offers office and house call appointments to his clients.  His offices are located at 3225 N. Andrews Avenue, Ft. Lauderdale, FL and can be reached at 954 673-8579.