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Man's best friends given blessing at first ever ceremony at St. Peter's

Fr. Thomas Friedl smiles as he looks over the assembled pets gathered in the parking lot of St. Peter the Apostle Catholic Church. (Sarah Smth / Enterprise)

For a miraculous seven minutes Sunday, all God's creatures co-existed in peace and harmony as if a divine presence had settled over them.

Except for one yappy little dog, who excitedly sinned his way through St. Peter the Apostle Catholic Church's first ever pet blessing, barking for all he was worth.

Yappy (a pseudonym to protect his real identity) is destined for the confessional booth, obedience school or a shock collar. He was the proverbial crying child in the sanctuary. But the church wisely held the blessing outdoors, where Yappy could make his joyful noise for all (in a six-block radius) to hear.

"Anyone bring a horse? Anyone bring a goldfish?" asked Fr. Thomas Friedl, speaking of the creatures that inhabit the lands, the waters and the skies.

None there in the cold church parking lot in downtown Park Rapids. Just dogs and cats.

But for the duration of the blessing, every one of the four-legged creatures was on his or her best behavior, with the lone exception. No hissing, snarling, or sniffing. No piddling, but that all took place before the blessing, diluted by rainwater in the parking lot. No muddy paws on the padre's stark white frock.

Just good dogs and good cats.

Friedl, reading from a special section of Scripture written for such occasions, said pets "share portions of human existence... they're a reminder of the goodness in our lives."

He told the pet owners, "God put us on this earth to be the stewards of all living things."

The blessing coincided with the Feast of St. Francis, who was widely regarded as the patron saint of animals.

One dog in the parking lot has been twice blessed.

Buddy, the "Highway 71 dog" who was wandering on the thoroughfare throughout the summer of 2008 in Hubbard County, was finally caught and adopted last December by Pat and Al Katzner. That was his first blessing. Sunday was his second.

"They are great companions; this is a warm thing to do," Pat Katzner said of blessing Buddy. He's been on a steady diet since adoption. People kept feeding him, or he found food all on his own in the wild. Judging by his girth, he was enormously successful.

Other than cutting back his rations, he's adapted well to Pat and Al.

Buddy also has a new buddy. The Katzners took in Gus, a mixed breed dog owned by an elderly man who had no one to take his faithful companion in when his health deteriorated. Gus and Buddy are happy to have a loving home.

Al Katzner said humans are also blessed by having pets.

"They never talk back, they just love you," he said quietly.

Animals help their owners "maintain our human lives," Friedl said. "They give us joy."

And with that, the newly blessed trotted, skipped, barked and meowed their way home, riding in their carriers, back seats, and truck beds. They seemed aware something special had just taken place.

There was no admonishment to stay off the couch, to stop begging, to shush, to behave. And, although religion teaches that it is better to give than to receive, for this one day of the year, the animals assembled were the recipients of unconditional love, not the givers.