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Pet Prayers Answered

St. Francis' example inspires a Wisconsin church

All Animals magazine, September/October 2015

By Karen E. Lange

In honor of St. Francis Day, church members bring their pets to a Wisconsin church to be blessed. Photo by Ron Harrell

The woman with the two big dogs came to the Oshkosh Area Humane Society because she didn’t have enough money to feed them. Several years ago, the Wisconsin shelter would have had to turn her away, having no means to supply food for pets in the community. But thanks to a local church’s new program, it could give her a 50-pound bag of food. The shelter can regularly provide assistance like this because of a Fill the Bowl program at First Congregational Church in Oshkosh, says Joni Geiger, the humane society’s executive director.

“I’m just amazed at what they’ve been able to do,” Geiger says. “This has opened everyone’s eyes: We don’t want to see anyone separated from their pets.”

  • Young members of First Congregational Church in Wisconsin bring their animal toys to the altar to be blessed. Photo by Thom Hadel

Fill the Bowl, created and promoted nationwide by The HSUS, was launched at First Congregational in October 2014 during its first-ever celebration of St. Francis Day, which honors the saint known for his compassion toward animals. A Saturday pet blessing drew people carrying dogs, cats, gerbils, guinea pigs, rats, a rabbit and a gecko; an accompanying vegan potluck displayed recipes for all of the dishes. On Sunday, the pastor delivered a sermon on St. Francis and children brought stuffed animals to the front of the sanctuary to be blessed.

The spirit of compassion continued after the weekend was over. A dog crate in the church’s entrance allows members to leave pet food and supplies for Fill the Bowl.

“It’s hard to ignore a container that you pass every week,” says Cheryl Hentz, an HSUS faith outreach volunteer and leader of the church’s animal ministry, which started last year. 

Church members have donated hundreds of pounds of dog and cat food, and the church benevolence committee gave $500. The contributions allowed the shelter to donate more than 1,300 pounds of food to pet owners during the program’s first seven months.

Hentz says her faith and caring for animals go hand in hand, since the Bible says God gave man dominion over the animals.

“You don’t dominate the animals; you don’t mistreat them,” she says. “You are supposed to be taking care of them.”

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