It was not Chaim Pisher Piddler on the Woof's first trip to Temple Shalom. The Old English sheepdog, a service dog owned by congregant Mic Robertson, celebrated his unofficial "bark mitzvah" at the Colorado Springs synagogue two years ago.
"He was about 6 months old; that's about 13 in dog years. We snuck him in and I took him up to the altar with me," said Robertson, a military veteran who suffers from PTSD. "He comes with me everywhere I go.
"Chaim means 'life' in Yiddish. He is my new life."
Each year in early October, Catholic and many Anglican churches in the U.S. mark the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi by inviting worshippers to bring in their pets for a special blessing in honor of the patron saint of animals. It's a time to focus on the important roles pets play in our lives, and for pet owners to recommit to obligations of care and affection.
Though Judaism places a great emphasis on compassion for animals, and their proper treatment even is dictated by laws, no such official tradition of blessing exists in the Jewish faith, said rabbi Mel Glazer.
At Temple Shalom, though, it's a practice with a steady history.
"Pets are members of our families. Our pets give us emotional support and sometimes they are our best friends," said Glazer, who held the first Blessing of the Pets service at the synagogue seven years ago. "Why should Catholics have all the fun?"
The special Sunday blessing might not be a Jewish tradition, but it is in context, coming a day after the reading of the story of Noah and the Ark during regular Shabbat services.
"One of the values of ritual is it takes note of important ideas and feelings in our lives, and this is the day we come together as a community to honor them," Glazer said.
By noon Sunday, a large tent set up on the lawn outside the synagogue was filled with congregants, children, dogs on leashes and cats in carriers. Two horses and their keepers waited outside, away from the crowd.
"There are all kinds of laws about pets," said Glazer, taking a mic to address the crowd. "Who should eat first in your house?"
Answer, many voices in unison: Pets!
"That's right. And if you sleep in a warm bed, you aren't allowed to let your pet sleep in a cold barn," Glazer said.
"Now, I want you to look at your pet and tell them why you love them so much," Glazer instructed.
Dahfna Katzenberg, 6, slipped her hand into the cat carrier to scrub the head of Truffle.
"You're adorable and very soft and cuddly," she told the 10-year-old Birman.
The brief service concluded with a group blessing and prayer.
For Jacob Gonzales, 18, and his 14-year-old dog, Rainbow, the service was a chance to celebrate life and pet loves past.
"I had a rabbit pass away, so this year it's really nice to be able to come here with Rainbow and do this," Gonzales said.
Kerry Berg and her daughter, Lauren, 12, brought their three bulldogs - Zoya, Maya and Belle - who were a hit among the younger set.
"Our pets are part of our family and now they're part of our bigger family," Kerry Berg said. "Plus, it's a good way to get to know your congregation better."
Contact Stephanie Earls: 636-0364