At St. Ann’s Episcopal Church in Sayville, the barking of more than 20 dogs gathered on Sunday on the lawn drowned out the sound of church bells that chimed the hour.
The dogs were present for the annual Blessing of the Pets, a tradition that honors St. Francis of Assisi, who is remembered for being a lover of animals. The ceremony precedes the parish’s current priest, THE Rev. Farrell Graves, and has taken place for about five years.
While everyone at the ceremony was proud to have the four-legged members of their family (and one fish) blessed, it was an especially heartfelt occasion for two dogs close to the parish’s heart.
Delilah Mae and Nala Mae, two “Southern Belles” in the form of Labrador mixes, were rescued by two members of the church’s youth group while on its first Habitat for Humanity build, which took place in July in an impoverished section of Virginia.
Pier-Anna Fox, of Blue Point, was a parent chaperone on the trip to Accomac, Va., where six teenagers from the church were helping to build a house for the needy. She said that early in the trip, some of the teens, including her daughter Avalon, spotted two “emaciated” dogs roaming near the church where they were staying.
“I have to say, my daughter and another were probably instrumental in all this,” she said. “They started feeding them peanut-butter sandwiches.”
Dana Schulz, 17, of Sayville, was the other student who took an interest in the dogs. She said they seemed well-behaved but were in bad shape and didn’t seem to have homes.
“They kept coming back to us,” she said. That is, until the last leg of the trip, when the dogs ran off to the sound of other dogs barking and didn’t come back that night.
Fox said they all worried, especially after learning that many people in the area were abandoning dogs after losing their jobs or falling on hard economic times.
On the last day of their trip, the group was packing up the van to head home when the dogs returned.
“We were getting ready to leave,” Schulz said, “and I said, ‘I wish the dogs would come back,’ and then they just showed up.”
No one wanted to abandon them, Fox said, so they took them to the local animal shelter to see what they could do.
At the animal shelter, Fox said they were told the facility was at capacity, and referred them to the town’s animal control office. There, they were told that the dogs -- neither of which had a collar -- would have no more than 10 days to be adopted from the shelter before they were euthanized.
“At that point, we just couldn’t leave them,” she said. “It was like, now or never.”
So both dogs made the trip back to Long Island in the van. Delilah Mae, a black Lab mix, went home with the Fox family. Nala Mae, a tawny-colored Lab mix, went to the Schulz family -- mom Lynette was also on the trip as the youth group’s assistant leader.
On Sunday, the dogs were healthy and playful as they reunited on the lawn of the church and were each blessed by the reverend.
“This is their first blessing,” Fox said. “But they were already blessed.”