Bride of Cujo

Meet Ida. She’s a half-standard, half-miniature dachshund my wife and I adopted one year before the birth of our daughter. She is probably the most gorgeous dachshund you’ll ever meet. Really. Everybody thinks so. But don’t let her outer beauty fool you. For beneath her ravishing exterior is a demonic hound from Hell ready to growl at your slightest infraction, to rip your clothes, to sink her teeth into your hand if you approach her when she’s in a foul mood (which is always). Ida’s aggressive personality didn’t manifest until after our daughter was born, but since then she’s become a greater and greater menace. And the target of her ire is mostly yours truly. She rarely threatens my wife, but she exudes hostility at me constantly, especially if my wife and I are in the same room together with her. For a long time we took all the drama in stride, but eventually, we just couldn’t take it anymore. So several months ago we decided to give Ida to a Lutheran woman in our neighborhood who loves dachshunds, and who already had one of her own. Ida’s new digs really are ideal for her, and for us too. We are able to visit her regularly, but we no longer need to endure her aggressiveness on a daily basis.

Unfortunately, in recent weeks Ida has transferred the animus once reserved for me to her new owner. And it’s becoming a real problem. So a couple weeks back, the owner contacted us with a special request. She invited us to attend church with her in the Lutheran chapel across the street from our local LDS ward building, in order to observe her congregation’s annual “Blessing of Animals” after regular services. She asked our family to witness the blessing with her, in much the same manner we might invite our member or non-member friends to the blessing of our own child. But this was not your average baby blessing.

For Ida didn’t need a “blessing”. She needed an exorcism.

After the morning service ended, about 15-20 of us descended into the church basement with our pets in tow. All present spontaneously formed a circle with their animals, and the Lutheran pastor joined us shortly thereafter. Ida’s new owner brought Ida into the room, and handed her to my wife to hold in the circle. The pastor began to speak. He read several animal-focused scriptures like Genesis 1:1, 20-28 and Psalms 148. Then came the actual “Blessing of Animals,” which consisted of a reading of the following prayer:

“Gracious God, in your love you created us in your image and made us stewards of the animals that live in the skies, the earth, and the sea. Bless us in our care for our pets and animals [Ida, etc.]. Help us recognize your power and wisdom in the variety of creatures that live in our world, and hear our prayer for all that suffer over work, hunger, and ill-treatment. Protect your creatures, and guard them from all evil, now and forever.”

This was lovely, but not quite what the doctor ordered. I was a little disappointed at the lack of Beelzebub references or a “Fie on you Satan!” or two, as they would have better met Ida’s needs. Oh well. After he finished his oration, the minister approached each dog in turn (all present were dogs), petted it gently on the head, and muttered a few more words of blessing.

As he worked his way around the circle, I naturally wondered how Ida would comport herself. Did my wife and I have a duty to disclose Ida’s devilish nature, or should we let the pastor figure things out the hard way? It was too late to raise the issue, however, for it quickly became Ida’s turn. The pastor leaned over slowly to pet Ida gently. Impressively, Ida didn’t growl in anticipation of the petting, as she is known to do. Instead, she just sat there quietly until the pastor’s hand was about a centimeter above her head, and then she lunged. Rapid-fire barking erupted from her evil jaws as she attempted to sever the pastor’s fingers from his hand. Fortunately, my wife had anticipated this reaction and held Ida down, preventing her from making physical contact with her blessor. Crisis averted. Embarrassment endured.

There was something vaguely Linda Blair-ish about Ida’s performance, particularly given the crucifix in the room, the approaching Christian pastor, and the physical constraints that held Ida down. There was no holy water, no “The power of Christ compels you!!!,” but Ida was so angry, her head might as well have spun all the way around. Naturally, I quelled my embarrassment by thinking happy, judgmental thoughts about others. Since Ida was raised in a Mormon household, I told myself, she probably internalized LDS teachings on priesthood, and was objecting vigorously to the exercise of apostate ordinances by those without proper priesthood power and authority. Good for her.

Ida’s blessing was pretty unusual from a Mormon perspective, but not unique. Ask Stapley about the occasional 19th Century practice of blessing transport animals in Kirtland, the pioneer trek West, and Utah. Ask me about the infamous Elder Andrade in my mission who was known to give priesthood blessings to stray or injured dogs, orally promising them that they would die. (These ordinances were not efficacious; blessed dogs were later spotted alive and well, without limp or injury.) Now, I grant you Elder Andrade’s view of proper priesthood ordinances was a wee bit expansive (He had a habit of anointing and blessing the broken space heater in his apartment to make it function properly.) And anointing exhausted cows or oxen seems pretty far removed from our current LDS experience. But whatever. The point is that Ida’s ordinance — although performed by a Lutheran minister — is not entirely without historical precedent in Mormonism. And so I’m left wondering if we ought not resurrect this practice in the modern Church, and what exactly the ordinance might look like if we did.

I don’t pretend to hold firm views on how the priesthood can best be employed on behalf of our canine and bovine brethren. But if we are to reinstitute the practice of animal blessing, we must reflect on a set of profound and underanalyzed questions: If the efficacy of blessings turns in part on the faith of the recipient, do common housepets possess the requisite agency to exercise that faith? How do priesthood holders distinguish the need for blessings of health from blessings of comfort if making verbal inquiries of barnyard animals is impractical? If you’re trying to anoint a puppy with oil, and it licks your hand, is this a sacreligious act that preemptively nullifies the blessing?

These questions will undoubtedly preoccupy Mormon philosophers and theologians for generations.

Comments

  1. MMMMMmmmmmmmmmmm . . . . Blessed Rib-Eye . . .

  2. If we blessed our cattle, would we have to cease administering steroids? Or is the word of wisdom for cattle based on different premises?

  3. Are you feeding your baby to Ida, or does that last picture belie the entire post to that point? Hmm?

  4. We had a cow once that was, I am quite certain, I creature of Hell. Vicious, sneaky, cruel. Thank goodness we eventually ate her.

  5. While I was on my mission in Arkansas, there was a lady that lived below us that hated us. She would bang her broom on her ceiling constantly, sometimes even if we were crossing the floor in socks. She at a vicious little dog, a terrier, that would go blood thirsty and evil whenever we passed the little apartment yard she kept it chained in. One day coming home, the lady met us and asked if we were ministers. We said yes and she asked us to help her dog. It was in a crate on towels obviously dying. The dog was 150 in dog years and it was clearly about to kick the bucket. It was swollen, biting the air and could hardly get a breath. We knelt in prayer with the lady and asked the Lord to bless her dog. This was a prayer without faith because that dog was going to die in any second. She got up with tears and thanked us over and over. We left. The next day the dog was out front straining on its chain trying to kill us again. It was my mission miracle. She never banged on the ceiling again.

  6. Kevin Barney says:

    When I was an undergrad in classics we had our own room in the HBL Library, the Ancient Studies Reading Room. Before the powers that be finally put a lock on the door, it was often frequented by business students who had no business being there and who used the room to study without properly appreciating the ancient arcana among which they were seated. So some enterprising soul posted a sign on the door to the room, which read “Cave canem!”* For some mysterious reason, however, this sign did not have the desired effect, and the lock remained necessary and was installed.**

    *Latin for “Beware of the dog!”

    **This is now the Hugh W. Nibley Reading Room and is located across the hall from the original location.

  7. I know what set her off. She finally figured out that you named her “Ida.” Good grief. That would make any dog, mad. It doesn’t matter if you didn’t think up this moniker from the underworld. Patriarchal order.

  8. So…this might be why women don’t hold the priesthood. I’d be okay with blessing a dog or a cow if I could, but I’d be embarrassed to ask someone else to do it. As it is, I pray for my dogs quite frequently, especially as they start showing the signs of age. Actually, the same goes for my car, but that’s more along the lines of “please let it start, please let it start, please let it start”…

  9. @Kevin: THAT IS AWESOME. Cave canem indeed. It’s not our fault business majors don’t speak Latin.

  10. I remember my dad giving one of our dogs a blessing when I was a teenager. It was an emergency situation and the dog recovered.

    And, when another dog died years later, my dad dedicated the dog’s grave in the backyard. In our family dog = person, so this all seemed completely normal to me.

  11. There is a strange irony in someone elevating themselves above those not required to learn a dead language.

  12. StillConfused says:

    So I have two of these little dachshund dogs. Well they are my new husband’s dogs. They aren’t evil like that. But I don’t like housepets at all (hence why my children live on their own). Please someone say that they would like to take these two dogs. Please!!

  13. Jennifer in GA says:

    One of my favorite episodes of The Vicar of Dibley is when Geraldine had the service for the animals.

  14. Well, I’m not surprised. I for one have only had one dog, our miniature collie/poodle mix, named Muffin, that was ever worthy of prayers.

    We all know how cute Cocker Spaniels are, but again, looks can be deceiving. My wife and I, and her sister and her family, both got Cocker Spaniels from the same litter. Ours was just not very smart, but my wife’s sister’s dog would lie in wait in the bushes in their yard to attack the kids from both families whenever we visited. Neither one lasted long (the dogs, not the kids).

    But I’m shocked, Aaron, that you would put your child within reaching distance of such a vicious creature, and then take pictures. I almost can see the sequel to this post, which was hinted at by Becca: Mormon Pet Semetary!

  15. “Since Ida was raised in a Mormon household, I told myself, she probably internalized LDS teachings on priesthood, and was objecting vigorously to the exercise of apostate ordinances by those without proper priesthood power and authority. Good for her.”

    LOL

  16. StillConfused says:

    My father’s wife routinely puts their dog on the prayer rolls. But the dog has a first middle and last name so I don’t think anyone realizes what she is doing.

  17. 16 – Yes, no one is the wiser when they read “Sir Barky Von Schnauzerheimer”

  18. Natalie B. says:

    I personally love the idea of blessing pets. It seems to me that we bless (term used broadly) many non-humans in a variety of contexts. We bless our food, we dedicate buildings. Maybe these are different kinds of blessings, but I suspect that the faith of the one doing the blessing counts for something when blessing pets.

  19. I have nothing of real consequence to add–but I gotta say that this post just made my day! My favorite line? “I quelled my embarrassment by thinking happy, judgmental thoughts about others.”
    Awesome.

  20. Ardis, Kevinf,

    My daughter is 4yo. That’s an old pic that pre-dates Ida’s demonic possession. Also, recall that her hatred at home is mostly reserved for me.

    Ardis, if you were more in tune spiritually, you’d’ve recognized that Annika was trying to anoint Ida with oil, whereas Ida was interpreting the act as an invitation to chow, as the accompanying text plainly suggests. Obviously, the unspoken message of the post is to agitate for the priesthood ordination of women and toddlers. I’m surprised no one picked up on that.

  21. Steve Evans says:

    Ida is a pretty mean dog — I’ve witnessed this first-hand — but what’s surprising is her particular animus towards Aaron.

    Actually I guess that’s not surprising, but it is entertaining.

  22. Since when do we not bless animals? We have given blessings of healing and comfort to our dogs. We bless babies and they know less about what’s going on than my dog does.

    Should have gotten a Berner, Aaron. No one who has one ever regrets it. Except when you vacuum.

  23. McQ–Just a few hours ago, I was thinking how much I’d like another large dog (I’ve had 3 Great Pyrenees, a Lab, a Golden, an AmStaf-and-something mix, and others), and realized if I could have my choice, it would be a Bernese. I need either to get a much larger dog, OR remove the sign from the front door that says “Beware of Dog.” Our two wonderful dogs (a Westie and a Corgi), sublime as they are, don’t merit a “Beware,” or even a “Careful.” And the responses they get from strangers is “Awww.” Alas, my large-dog days are behind me.

    But back on thread: I am all in favor of churches having a Blessing of the Animals. I attended one in Rochester, NY, that had many dogs (one whose full name was “Guy Noir, Radio Detective,”), some lovely cats, a ferret obviously dear to the heart of the ten-year-old girl who cradled him in her arms, and a large tarantula named Rosy, who perched protectively on her owner’s large, hairy, very loving hand.
    There was also a Cocker Spaniel in the choir loft, who performed with the humans, “All God’s Creatures Got A
    Place in the Choir.” And when the choir sang, “And the dog goes–” the Cocker, on cue and in tune, sang, “Woof Woof Woof!” I am not making this up.

  24. #13 That is funny one!

    While tracting on my mission I noticed that dogs and babys were most often the ones who recognized us as servants of the Lord. But then there was some dogs of perdition too. Didn’t ever trie to cast out the evil spirits from those dogs, I usually just ran.

  25. I have seen the sign advertising the Blessing of the Animals at a local church and always wondered about it. Did your neighbor take Ida back? Has she improved at all?

    I had a friend in HS who had a dog, and her neighbor started feeding the dog and, within a few weeks, the dog started living with that neighbor. I found that very distressing. So much for loyalty.

  26. I wonder how the blessing of animals fits in with the (I think generally accepted) Christian doctrine that animals don’t have souls. When my best friend’s dog died I tried to comfort her by saying “You’ll see her again” and she surprised me by saying “No I won’t. Dogs don’t go to heaven.”

  27. I fell in love with the idea of a blessing of the animals when I first saw it on the BritCom “The Vicar of Dibley”. I’ve always loved animals and the idea of blessing them appealed to me. It seems like a very sweet (and in farming communities, practical) tradition.

    My question is, what has happened with Ida? Has there been any change? Is your Lutheran friend getting fed up with Ida’s bad behavior?

  28. As William Faulkner said (through Quentin Compson, wasn’t it?), “Once a bi*ch, always a bi*ch, what I say.”

  29. Obviously I sussed out your nefarious agenda, Aaron, and laid my own trap to bait you into confessing it openly. Mission accomplished.

  30. Folks, it’s too early to tell whether the blessing worked magic on Ida or not. Recall that the Linda Blair character required numerous rites of the exorcist before she was cured, and at least one priest ended up flinging himself out the window. So we’ll see.

  31. Obviously, Steve P is needed for this job.

  32. SteveP, that story is very sweet. Love your enemies indeed.

  33. Aaron, it must be something wrong with you and the Lutheran minister. After all, “All dogs go to heaven.”

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