“A dog is better than I, for he has love and does not judge”.
This quote from St Xanthias opens the door to bring awareness of the Orthodox faith to the dog loving public.
Did you know that there is an Orthodox monastery that has an extensive German Shepherd breeding and training program? The New Skete Monastery in New York is world renown for its dog training, both on-site as well through books and videos. They also offer dog biscuits and and other dog-related products.
Many cities throughout the US hold events that focus on dogs (or pets in general). St. George parish in Prescott, Arizona participates in these types of local events to spread awareness of Orthodoxy. For a typical event, a few parishioners will volunteer in a booth that offers pet blessings by the parish priest, giving out dog biscuits, and creating awareness of their local parish and the Orthodox faith in general. They also offer New Skete dog-training books for purchase.
With each dog biscuit they give out, they include information about their parish and a reflection on the importance of dogs by Fr. Stephen Freedman.
The event is meant to be a catalyst to start conversation, and everyone that participates is grateful that the service is being offered. Common phrases heard are, “Thank you so much for doing this”, “My dog is really sick and needed this”, “I didn’t know there was an Orthodox church in the area”, and “New Skete! This is like the Bible for dog training!”
The event is not a fund-raiser, however, pet-owners often like to leave a donation for a blessing. New Skete books are sold at cover price, and any sale proceeds go to a local dog rescue organization.
Find an Event
First, find a pet event in your area. Most events offer discounts to nonprofits, and sometimes are even free!
Then you need to order dog biscuits, baggies, 4×6 card inserts, books, and your signage.
The dog biscuits are ordered from New Skete Monastery and are developed from a formula created by the monks there. This in itself is a draw-most vendor booths at these events are giving dog treats away, but dog treats developed by monks is something very unique. Each bag has 50 biscuits and it is recommended to get at least 2 bags.
St. George offers complimentary 5×7 treat baggies with every pet blessing to anyone who stops by the booth. In the baggie is a dog biscuit and two 4×6 cards. One card has the quote from St. Xanthias on the front, with information about the parish on the back. The second card is a quote from Abbot Tryphon on the front, with the abbreviated article from Fr. Stephen Freeman on the back. A link to Fr. Freeman’s full article is published on their website at prescottorthodox.com/dog, and this link is also included on the card. This way they can track how many people have visited that page, which is helpful information for future social media campaigns.
St. George offers a selection of dog training books from the New Skete Monastery. They try to have two of each book available. St. George partners with a local nonprofit Christian-based dog rescue organization, that is also present at the events. All proceeds from books sales and donations go to that organization, they in turn send traffic to the booth.
The pet blessings are offered at no charge, but a donation jar is visible if people choose to donate. All donations also go to the same local dog rescue organization.
Don’t forget to put a water bowl out and to have jugs of fresh water to refill it. You will find that fresh water will draw a dog in dragging its owner behind.
St. George has two banners. One has the name of their parish on the left, and “Pet Blessings” on the right. If you can, add the word “Free”, as they have learned many people are hesitant because they assume there is a cost involved.
The second banner is an image of a priest holding a dog paw in his hand with the quote from St. Xanthius.
They also have two sandwich board signs: one states that they have dog biscuits from monks and the other reinforcing that they offer “Free Pet Blessings”.
The signage was not purchased all at once. Each year they did an event, they added some signage to spread out the cost.
The sandwich boards signs were a great addition as the actual signs themselves can slip in and out of the container and can be used for other parish events.
Create a tally sheet to keep track of the items you sell, the number of pet blessings, and the number of handouts given. This should be done for every hour. This way you can know what to plan for the following year, and be prepared for high traffic times.
The priest asks the owner for the dog’s name and then blesses the animal with holy water. The priest will need to bring any necessary items: bowl, holy water, sprinkler brush, stole, etc
The typical booth space is 10 x 10, but that may vary.
Two tables are needed. One for books and handouts (or whatever you are offering). The second table is for the needs of the priest to do blessings (bowl of holy water, etc). An icon of creation is also a nice addition.
The tables should be placed towards the back of the booth with enough room to sit behind, but leaving an open space in the front that invites people to come close, and creates an inviting space for pets and their owners to receive a blessing.
The banner with the name of the parish is placed in the front of the booth and the banner with the quote from St Xanthius is placed on the back wall, above the tables.
The two sandwich board signs are placed in the front at each corner of the booth.
There is always wind. Plan to bring weights for your booth canopy, and make sure you have ways to anchor your table coverings, as well as anything on top of your tables that might fly away in the wind.
Bring double the amount you will think you will need! Setup never goes perfectly and there are always things that need to be tweaked. Other handy items are duct tape, clamps, twine, clipboard, pen & paper, a cash box with a bit of change, and lunch!
Day of the Week
There are two events that take place in the Prescott area. One is on a Saturday and on is on a Sunday. The Saturday event poses no problem as their priest is able to be there for the whole event. Sunday however is an issue as their priest is serving Liturgy for the first half of the day. Parishioners manning the booth handout packets and let event attendees know that the priest will be at the booth later in the day to do pet blessing and to please come back then.
Knowledge of New Skete Monastery
You will be asked many questions about New Skete Monastery. Take the time to familiar yourself with what they do. There are many videos on YouTube about their process. You will come across many people that love New Skete and they will assume that you are associated with them, or at least know all about them.
How to be Your Dog’s Best Friend
A Dog’s Best Friend by Father Stephen Freeman
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