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Canines and more to get taste of the divine at annual pet blessing

‘Tis the season of giving thanks, and valley residents will be able to show appreciation for their beloved pets at the eighth annual Pet Blessing & Animal Fair on Nov. 9.

St. Rose Dominican Hospitals San Martin campus is scheduled to host the event from 1 to 3 p.m. in its Healing Garden, 8280 W. Warm Springs Road.

The event is set to offer pet-related information booths from rescue groups, clubs and hospitals. Agility clubs and the Metropolitan Police Department’s K-9 unit are also scheduled to perform demonstrations.

In addition, the hospital plans to host three pet contests for best dressed, best trick and best pet and owner look-alike. Winners are set to receive prizes.

“We started the contest last year and had some good participation,” said Linda Diego, the hospital’s executive coordinator, “so it’s a tradition we’re going to continue.”

The hospital also plans to offer a group pet blessing led by the Rev. Aloysius Abaneke and Sister Mary Kiefer at 2:30 p.m.

Vicky Van Meetren, the hospital’s CEO and president, said she helped a pet owner last year bless her Great Dane after the owner thought the priest had skipped her dog.

“I asked Father Kenny to bless the Great Dane again,” Van Meetren said. “(It) drew a huge smile on the face of the owner, who said, ‘Thank you. I can’t tell you how very much he needs to be blessed.’ ”

Van Meetren said she has attended the event for six years to bless her “granddogs,” a Labrador, Audrie, and a Yorkshire terrier, Jasmine.

“I think it just brings out the best in people to hear them talk about their animals and their special personalities,” she said. “The pets and their owners are so similar.”

When the hospital opened in November 2006, the vice president wanted to introduce the new campus to the community by hosting an event.

“They wanted to draw people into the hospital so they came up with the annual Pet Blessing & Animal Fair,” Diego said. “The idea revolved around St. Martin de Porres, whom we are named after.”

Martin de Porres is known for his undivided care for people and animals. During his lifetime, the saint fed the poor, built an orphanage and nursed the sick.

According to Diego, he is often pictured with mice at his feet. Legend says the mice were destroying the monastery’s linen so Martin told the mice he would feed them every day if they left the linen alone.

“(The monks) told him to poison them, but he cared for all animals and talked to them instead,” Diego said. “The mice obeyed and never troubled the monastery again.”

About 200 people attend the event every year, according to Diego.

“The hospital didn’t expect that many people when we first started this,” she said. “They were surprised and quite shocked.”

While many cats and dogs are blessed at each event, the hospital has seen some unusual pets over the years, including a monkey, a snake and a turtle.

“Last year, this lady brought her chameleon with her,” Diego said. “I got to see it change colors as it crawled down her shirt. It was really neat.”

Diego said the event has become popular and expected in the community.

“Every (fall), we get calls from people in the community asking us when we’re doing the blessing and fair and if they can be part of it,” she said.

Attendees are encouraged to bring well-behaved pets to the event. According to Diego, leashes are not required as long as owners are in control of their pets.

“I’ve noticed how well-behaved the animals are,” Van Meetren said. “They just seem to know it is a community event, or maybe it’s that they know they are blessed to have loving owners.”

New or used towels will be collected at the event to donate to local pet shelters and nonprofit organizations.

Contact Southwest/Spring Valley View reporter Caitlyn Belcher at or 702-383-0403.