Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Saturday, Feb. 2, 2013 | 8:24 p.m.
The Rev. Collete Paul did her part Saturday to make sure all dogs – and even a tarantula – make it to heaven.
In the courtyard outside Good Samaritan Lutheran Church at 8425 W. Windmill Lane in Las Vegas, Paul's congregation was hairier than usual for the church’s fifth annual pet blessing. She led the devout purebreeds and mutts attached to their owner’s leashes through a series of animal-related prayers and scripture readings.
She then blessed each animal by petting and nuzzling it and offering a prayer, forgiving them for whatever trash cans they might have gotten into, yards they dug up or any other doggie sins they committed in the past year. Every pet received the same treatment, even Spartacus the tarantula in his holey container.
For the pet owners in attendance, Saturday offered a chance to integrate faithful companions with their faith.
“There are just a lot of animal lovers, and they’re all God’s creatures,” said event coordinator Gretchen Papez. “Everyone needs a blessing, and for a lot, the pets are members of their family. So we wanted to have something for them too.”
About 15 owners and their pets filled the courtyard. Many churches hold pet blessings on Oct. 4 in honor of the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals. Papez said they moved their ceremony to the winter when the Southern Nevada weather is more temperate.
Liz and Jeremy Hare had the event marked on their calendar. Both attend Good Samaritan Lutheran Church and have fostered more than 100 dogs.
They were excited by the prospect of bringing their three dogs -- Rosie, Milton and Wyllie -- to church.
“It was just fun because our pets are so special and important to us, and the church is special to us, too” said Liz Hare. “So it was nice to combine everything.”
“And we thought we’d try to get some of the demons out of them,” she said with a laugh.
For Steven DeMarcus, the ceremony carried an added importance. His 10-year-old German Shepherd, Zita, died Wednesday. He bought her as a puppy expecting her to be a guard dog, but instead he got a friend that never met a person she didn’t like. He loved her for that.
He watched the ceremony with his mixed breed dog, Daisy, through tear-stained glasses and teary eyes.
Zita’s passing left him devastated; the ceremony at least offered him some hope that his best friend would be in heaven waiting for him.
“If the Lord promises us eternal happiness, I have to have faith that we’ll meet up with every one we’ve ever loved in life,” said DeMarcus as he fought back tears. “I’m here to have my little one blessed and Zita’s memory commemorated.”
Paul finished the event with a memorial service for people who lost a pet in the past year.
She knows dogs and other pets don’t understand religion, but she’s confident they understand faith. She sees it in the gleam in her 4-year-old Maltese, Angel’s eyes, and in her excitement when she comes home.
Paul knows without a doubt that all dogs do go to heaven.
“I personally don’t know what heaven looks like,” Paul said. “But I know my dog is going to be there.”