Animal-inspired service celebrates relationship between humans and pets

Eight-year-old Hello Kitty snuggles into the arms of owner Autumn Hughes, 9, during the service at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Centre County on Sunday.
Eight-year-old Hello Kitty snuggles into the arms of owner Autumn Hughes, 9, during the service at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Centre County on Sunday. CDT photo

Bill Murray famously said in the film “Ghostbusters” that the end of time would be “dogs and cats living together — mass hysteria!”

But dogs and cats seemed to get along just fine — at least they weren’t hysterical — during Sunday’s Blessing of the Animals at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Centre County in State College. More than a dozen pets of all shapes and sizes were brought to the fellowship to receive a blessing by the Rev. Gabi Parks.

“The relationship between animals and humans is so important,” Parks said after the service. “There is a deep spiritual bond between animals and humans. A lot of people won’t admit that.”

The service was accentuated by the occasional whimper and bark as the congregation celebrated an animal-centric service with pet-related advice and music.

Destiny Hughes, of State College, said she was surprised her cat, Hello Kitty, was so well behaved through the service. It was a new experience for both the cat and the family.

“My daughters didn’t want to come this morning, so I told them we could bring the cat, and they agreed,” she said.

Parks related advice from Robert Fulghum’s “All I Really Need to Know I Learned From My Dog,” with such gems as “eat with gusto and enthusiasm, delight in the simple joy of a long walk, and leave room in your schedule for a good nap.” She also read from a “newly unearthed” chapter of the book of Genesis describing where pet dogs and cats came from.

The choir performed the animal-friendly “Contrapunto bestiale alla mente,” a humorous piece penned by 16th-century composer Adriano Banchieri. The piece examines what it would be like if animals tried to hold human conversations, with the barking of dogs and meowing of cats followed by nonsensical lyrics resulting in an animal’s attempt at human language.

Parks’ message focused on the need for humans to remain mindful but detached from their lives if they want to know peace, likening it to her former “granddog” Hilton, the Buddhist dog.

Hilton, who unfortunately passed three years ago, she said, was a Buddhist from an early age, preferring to lie still for long periods of time contemplating the world. He knew how to be detached, she said, staying serene and composed until it was time to be excited.

Hilton was also mindful of where he was and what he was doing at all times, she said. When he ate, he focused on his food, not reading the newspaper or watching TV. When he played, he played with all his heart with no distractions.

“When you practice mindfulness, and enjoy everything, then you will enjoy everything a lot more,” she said. “Hilton the Buddhist dog always believed in the now. He didn’t obsess over things of the past.

“For us humans,” she said, “living in the present is also at play here. So much sorrow and grief can be eased by living in the moment. You can easily let go of anger over past hurts, and let go of the worry of tomorrow.”

Parks said she typically holds the Blessing of the Animals on the first Sunday of October, as it coincides with the birthday of St. Francis of Assisi, who was known for his care of animals and the environment.

Helen Dempsey, of State College, brought her dog Jersey for the service. The 9-year-old PAWS rescue had never been through such a service before, she said, but it was good for her to socialize with other animals.

“For me, it’s a nice thing to be able to share her somewhere that’s important to me,” she said.