Rabbi Rose Jacob Blessing the Animals

Rabbi Rose Jacob participates in a Blessing of the Animals recently in Middleburg.

It was a picture-perfect fall day for an Interfaith “Blessing of the Animals” at the National Sporting Library & Museum in Middleburg.

After a brief service, roughly 100 well-behaved animals and their devoted humans were blessed by a crew of clergy. The two Episcopal priests, a Presbyterian pastor and a Jewish rabbi gradually worked their way through the crowd of leads and leashes, pet carriers, cuddly pouches, and pet strollers, gently rubbing heads, flanks, feathers and fur.

Tongue-in-cheek, I assured all that their pet being blessed by a rabbi bore no religious obligations on the part of the animal! Many sought me out for an ecumenical blessing. Names and breeds were shared, a few words were exchanged, mostly “origin” stories of how their pet came into their lives. Then the blessing; followed in almost every case with a teary-eyed moment, and a choked up “thank you.”

There isn’t a single religion in the world that does not make provisions for how animals fit into the grand scheme of things, and what our obligations are toward them. The Judeo-Christian tradition puts that relationship in the first chapter of Genesis.

“Let us make human beings in our image, after our likeness, so they can have dominion over (be responsible for) the fish in the sea, the birds in the air, the cattle, and every animal that moves on the face of Earth.”

When we read it, we think “air pollution”—oceans filled with plastic, poaching of exotic animals, shrinking ice floes, poisoned lakes and species extinction. But what are our obligations toward animal welfare here in Virginia?

As someone who has volunteered in the area of animal rescue, I’ve encountered horrific situations, not only of severe neglect, inadequate food, water and shelter, and abandonment, but also torture and subsequent death of companion animals.

When I first moved to Virginia fifteen years ago, I found there were two schools of thought on “taking care” of animals. I met many people who loved their animals (domestic and farm), and took excellent care of them. But I also met those who had no compunction about leaving a dog tied to a metal barrel in the heat of summer or the extreme cold of winter. Virginia is one of the last states to address this form of animal cruelty. Most Virginians don’t know that it is now a misdemeanor to dump or abandon a companion animal. Failing to give an animal basic care for five days in a row is considered abandonment.

Virginia laws are slowly evolving. This past July a new law went into effect, stating “anyone who tortures, willfully inflicts inhumane injury or pain,” or “cruelly and unnecessarily beats, maims or mutilates any dog or cat” can be found guilty of a Class-6 felony, punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $2,500.

The FBI keeps a database of those convicted of certain animal cruelty offenses, since studies have shown a connection between animal cruelty and other crimes—from drug and firearm offenses to battery and sexual assault. There is certainly a cultural clash out here in the Blue Ridge. One of the first things that happens when the subject of cat overpopulation comes up is the response, “well I know how to take care of that!” followed by the pow, pow of an invisible gun.

We can do better. God expects us to do better and we expect the new laws to hold people accountable for their actions! Finally, if we see something we can say something, report abuse, and believe that the law will take care of the abusers.

I’d like to conclude today’s column with the blessing received by each animal along with their humans. I hope you will take a moment to share this blessing with the animals who share your life.

May God bless you and watch over you and over those who love and care for you. May you have joy in your life together in the name of the one God who created and sustains us all. Amen.

O gracious God, creator of all that is good and lively and wonderful, we thank you for giving us these animals to love and to care for and who love us in return. Help us to care for them and to be companions for them as they are for us. May we all come into your greater world of the kingdom of heaven where we shall love and live forever. This we ask to your eternal praise. Amen.

Rose Lyn Jacob is rabbi for a five-county area in the Virginia Piedmont, including Culpeper County.

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