Why Celebrate World Animal Day?
By this point our global community has named every day as a national day for someone or international day to celebrate something. There are entire websites dedicated keeping us up with what or who we should be celebrating on any given day. There is caregiver’s day, marine mammal awareness day, international tiger day, and, yes, cotton candy day (It’s December 7th by the way.) How do we choose any, if any, to commemorate?
Well, it all depends on your beliefs and your passions. If you are passionate about the welfare of animals, today, World Animal Day, might be one new holiday you want to put on your calendar.
Heinrich Zimmermann (1887 – 1942) was a German writer of the magazine Man and Dog and animal protection activist that came up with the idea of World Animal Day. Heinrich organized the first celebrations starting in Berlin in 1925. He reportedly choose the date of October the 4th in honor of Saint Francis of Assisi.
Feast Day of St. Francis
Well known as the day of the Feast of Saint Francis of Assisi, the eve of October 4th, 1226 marked the passing of this well respected founder of the Catholic Franciscan order. St. Francis is the patron saint of animals, ecology and the environment. There are numerous stories of him communicating with animals in miraculous ways.
The most impressive animal whispering is Saint Francis’s taming of the wolf of the Italian town of Gubbio. The starving wolf was devouring livestock and attacking the people in the town. St. Francis not only tamed the ferocious wolf, which resulted in the wolf comfortably laying at his feet, he also brokered a treaty between the townsfolk and the wolf. The people agreed to feed the wolf and the wolf consented to never hurt anyone again. This peace deal was successful for the remainder of the wolf’s life.
There are other tales of St. Francis rescuing a rabbit and a waterfowl. When he went to set them free they refused to leave his tranquil presence. He had the companionship of a crow that traveled with him to collect alms. When St. Francis died, the crow languished and died at his tomb. St. Francis is said to have quieted a particularly obnoxious donkey who was interrupting a sermon. He silenced an entire chorus of birds in the forest so that he could praise God. Over and over, the animals followed St. Francis’s direction and he, in turn, treated them as equals. He’d refer to the animals directly as “Brother” and “Sister”. He talked to them in a way that absolutely respected their intelligence.
Blessing of the Animals
Every year, Catholic churches around the world celebrate the Feast Day of St. Francis by inviting animal stewards to bring their pets to a blessing of the animals ceremony. You don’t have to be Catholic or to visit your local parish to participate in this beautiful honoring of the animals. In fact, your crowd shy cats would probably like best if you stayed at home.
Meaningful ceremonies are not reserved for institutions or for religions. Meaningful ceremonies are something you can do alone or in the privacy of your own home with your family. You can also host your own blessing of the animals and invite friends over.
When honoring the animals, it is important to remember a couple of things:
- Note that you love the animals for their own sake, not just because of what they do for you
- You honor our pets every day with the immaculate care you give them, but today you can make an extra effort to forgive their faults and bad habits. Love them unconditionally.
- Remember all of the animals that are suffering at the hands of humans. Make a special effort to include them in your prayers.
- Pray for the sick, the blind, the handicapped, and the terrified animals that are waiting for a kind hand to rescue them.
- Regardless of if you believe in eating meat or not, send love, light, and grace to the livestock of the world that are feed to humans.
- Turn your face to the greater environment and remember too that all the wild ones need our blessings.
Here is a prayer attributed to St. Francis that you may choose to include in your blessing ceremony:
Through our own unconsciousness
we have lost the beautiful relationship
we once had with the rest of creation.
Help us to see
that by restoring our relationship with you
we will also renew our connection with all your creation.
Give is the grace to see
all animals as gifts from you
and to treat them with respect,
for they are your creation.
We pray for all animals
who are suffering
as a result of our neglect.
May the order you originally established
be once again restored
to the whole world… Amen.”
– quoted from Saint Francis of Assisi: Brother of Creation by Mirabai Starr
Feasting on World Animal Day
Many would argue that feasts eaten on World Animal Day should be vegetarian or vegan. With this sentiment I do not disagree. Regardless, this day should be a day to consider your relationship to your food. Are you eating organic or locally raised food as often as you could be? Are your eggs, cheese or meat humanely raised? Would you rather eat less or no meat at all?
I do not bring all of this up to shame you or commend you. More important than any righteousness about what food you put on your table is the reminder to make conscientious choices about your eating. Think about what feels well suited for you. Practice acceptance of all walks of life and do your best not to judge the choices of others. Lead by example and not preaching. That is the Franciscan way.
How about feasting with the animals on World Animal Day? Before you put those food bowls down in front of your cats and dogs or fill the feeders for the horses, goats and chickens, say a prayer over the food so that it may nourish the animals, lead to a sense of good health, and fill their hearts with joy.
Helping Out the Animals
If you are at the office on World Animal Day, at least do your best to make a commitment to help out animals in need this coming weekend or this month. Consider donating to or volunteering at an animal sanctuary that provides homes for disadvantage animals for their entire lives. If you work at or help run an animal shelter, this day can be a reminder to reach out for additional support. Many sanctuaries, rescues, and animal welfare organizations use this unique holiday to plan fundraisers and special events.
There are a lot of opinions out there, especially among animal advocates, about how animals should be treated. Do your best to come out of judgement, anger or resentment. Stand up against what is harmful in the treatment of animals, but in the spirit of sacred activism which refuses to breed hate. Help to raise awareness about the plight of animals through your example of living kindness. Join forces with others who are doing the same.
Additional Resources About World Animal Day and St. Francis:
Contemplations & Living Wisdom, Saint Francis of Assisi: Brother of Creation by Mirabai Starr from Sounds True, 2013.
About Author, Stacey L. L. Couch
Stacey L. L. Couch, Certified Shamanic Practitioner and Ordained Minister, plans and facilitates ceremonies of all types from house blessings to weddings to life transitions. Many of these ceremonies coincide with either equinoxes or solstices. With her deeply rooted experience in the field of shamanism and vast knowledge about the natural world, Stacey brings a unique blend of rational and mystical perspective to every ceremony she conducts. Every ceremony is custom-built and includes the valuable ideas and input from those she works on behalf of. Stacey can travel to you to conduct the ceremony in person, or she can meet with you by phone or Skype to work together and help you plan your own ceremony.
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