On a sunny October morning, about 50 dogs and their owners gathered in Sandpiper Square for the first-ever public blessing of the animals ceremony.

The congregation at Cannon Beach Community Church, like many churches around the U.S., have had this celebration for years within chapel walls. The blessing happens every Oct. 4 in honor of the feast of St. Francis of Assisi. Church members bring in animals for faith leaders to bless to commemorate the life of St. Francis, who is the Catholic Church’s patron saint of animals and the environment.

But this year, church member Cat Wollen wanted to organize the ceremony in public as a way for the church to reach out to the community through the love of animals.

“I named my dog ‘Pandemonium’ because when I got him my life was in pandemonium,” Wollen said. “But he’s the one who helped put me back together.”

Wollen shared the idea with Emmas Lindsay, the owner of Dogs Allowed in Cannon Beach, and her pastor, David Robinson, who together arranged the program. People and their dogs sang worship songs, and after the blessing each dog received a St. Francis charm.

The Christian faith has always been a part of Wollen’s life, but a period of depression and personal life challenges tested it, she said. Part of how she found her way back to her religion was through the support her dog provided her.

To Wollen, there are many entry points into the faith. Wollen wants to be inclusive, and if the way she can do that is through a pet, then so be it, she said.

“My faith has always been vital to me, but why I love it is because it is about love and kindness and mercy,” she said. “And honestly, that’s what animals do for you.”

Lindsay said she hopes to work with Wollen next year to expand the ceremony to include more people, but was happy to see the reaction of those who did attend.

“It’s been a dream of mine to have a public celebration like this,” she said. “I have no doubt it will continue to grow.”

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