Pets celebrated on Martha’s Vineyard

Tomori Kailani Buchanan introduces her pet bunny, Luna, to Bella, a miniature pony. — Photo by Lynn Christoffers

There were dogs of all descriptions and sizes, from a massive Great Pyrenees to a five-pound Yorkie. There were bijon frises, Portuguese water dogs, a Westie, a Norwich terrier, a shih tzu, a dachshund, a chihuahua and a Pomeranian. There were a Shar-pei and a beagle and two show-quality PBGVs (Petit Basset Griffon Vendeen) as well as an assortment of mutts.

And there was one rabbit, Luna, a black-and-white bunny that was the first to be sprinkled with holy water by Father Michael Nagle, while the canine crowd hung out in a circle waiting their turns.

The traditional blessing of the animals ushered in the third annual Celebration of Pets last Saturday afternoon at Sunset Park in Oak Bluffs.

Sponsored by the Animal Shelter of Martha’s Vineyard, the Celebration of Pets included a few animal exhibits, some dog activities and demonstrations, and pony rides provided by Pond View Farm. The animal-centric event, which was held from 12 noon to 2 pm directly across from the popular Harbor Festival, drew a good-size crowd of all ages, and the organizers were satisfied that the day fulfilled its awareness-raising intention. Animal Shelter board member Greg Orcutt noted that it attracted a record number of people this year.

Diana Muldaur of Edgartown, another board member, described the genesis of the event three years ago. “Greg and I sat down and said ‘We need some way to extend our thanks to the people who have supported us and helped us.’ The whole idea is just to say ‘Here we are. This is who we are, and have a good time.”

The Animal Shelter of M.V. filled the void caused when the MSPCA closed their shelter on the island. Just last week the MSPCA agreed to donate the building in Edgartown that they previously occupied to the shelter, which has been operating there for the past two years.

Still, Ms. Muldaur noted, the shelter is always in need of help. The operation runs entirely on donations, and she says that many people are still not aware of the change from a MSPCA shelter to an entirely local, privately run operation. She says, “It’s really a community service not just for animals but also for people who need to find a home for animals when they’re no longer able to care for them.”

After the blessing and a short pet parade, dog trainer Karen Ogden of Positive Rewards and two of her students put their pets through their paces in a canine agility course. Ms. Ogden and Eric Bates with their Australian shepherds and Katy Upson with Dundee, a Scottie, travel around New England competing in agility trials. Some owners had their pooch’s obedience skills tested by dog trainer Marc Street in the hopes that they might earn an AKC Good Citizenship certificate

Volunteers for the Animal Shelter manned a table answering questions and promoting some adoptable pets. A 50/50 raffle was won by Linda Beyer of Millis who turned her share of the take over to the shelter. Two gift baskets — one from the shelter and one from Good Dog Goods — were also raffled off.

The bunny seemed to be the day’s celebrity, receiving a lot of attention from fondlers and photographers. Of the blessing, her owner, 10-year-old Tomori Kailani Buchanan, said, “We thought this might be special for him.” Luna appeared nonplussed by the abundance of potential predators in the crowd, although Tomori held him safely in her arms the whole time before settling him securely in a knothole in a tree. Tomori, a summer resident of Oak Bluffs, said, “He loves small horses and llamas. They rub their noses on him.”

Three-year-old Azor Hartenstein found the animals a source of constant distraction. While his parents tried in vain to get him to pose for a picture, he said, “I want to ride on a camel.” The “camel” he was referring to was one of Barbara Ronchetti’s alpacas that she had provided for the event.

Also supplying animals for display — and petting — were Sandy Grant, with two miniature horses, and Bruce Marchard of Sunnyside Farm whose enormous (2,600-pound) Percheron draft horse was the object of much interest. Mr. Marchard explained to people how Max and his mate earn their keep logging and pulling a snow plow.

A Blessing of the Animals has been held on-Island, at a variety of churches for many years. Father Nagel explained that the tradition honors the patron saint of animals, St. Francis. He offered up a brief prayer before shaking the holy water sprinkler over the crowd.

The dogs seemed oblivious to the solemnity of the ritual, but the owners generally found it charming. “I’m not a really religious person but I try to socialize them when I can, and it’s for the shelter,” said Paula Church who led the dog parade with her bijon, Lily, and Great Pyrenees, Sophie. “I figured it might be good for them. Can’t hurt.”