LACEY – Barking, purring, oinking and other sounds were heard recently during the annual blessing of the animals held at the Popcorn Park Zoo.
The ceremony is held each year in honor of St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals and the environment.
Reverend John Cardello, who has served as the chaplain for the Ocean County Humane Society and the Popcorn Park Zoo for the past five years, once again performed the blessing at the service. Visitors brought their pets to the picnic area directly across from the zoo entrance for a blessing.
Rev. Cardello also went around to each animal pen to perform a blessing and he was very familiar with the history of most of the animals be they bears, lions, tigers or monkeys. He not only knew their species but in most cases he knew their names.
“As to some unusual blessings I have conducted over the years, I always tell people this event is my favorite event of the year because when and where else do I get to pet/touch tigers, lions, horses, etc. all in one day,” Rev. Cardello said.
“Each October, since I started the program, it has been my honor, privilege and joy to conduct the annual Zoo Animal and Pet Blessing held at the zoo. This event, it is non-sectarian and a free service for those who participate. The Popcorn Park Zoo has, for over 20 years, been a safe refuge for abused, injured and unwanted animals including farm animals, lions, tigers and bears,” Reverend Cardello said.
As Zoo chaplain, he has blessed lions (Simba), tigers (Thor and Raj), a Horse (Seven) suffering with pica (an eating disorder brought about by near starvation), shaken hands with a monkey (Konga), and a small goat rescued from sacrifice from a Satanist group.
He has also experienced the love and thanks of pit bull who was rescued from being used as a baiting animal for a dog fight ring.
“On another note I have delivered last rights to a dying monkey and was proud to deliver the eulogy at the farewell ceremony following the death of a camel named Princess (a long time resident and favorite at the zoo) who had an insatiable fondness for graham crackers,” Rev. Cardello added.
He was accompanied by long-time zookeeper John Bergmann. The reverend was in the zoo’s shelter when Bergmann “asked me to quickly bless a young dog that had been brought in from out of state. The poor dog was so sick, running a fever, unable to stand and eating or drinking only caused her to vomit resulting is severe dehydration.”
“I knelt down beside her and spoke to her while gently stroking her head and was rewarded by a feeble wag of her tail. I completed my Blessing (adding an extra prayer and leaving a St. Francis medal on her bed) and proceeded to Bless the other Zoo and shelter animals. Several hours later I returned to the shelter and was approached by Mr. Bergmann. I was told that shortly after the Blessing the sick dog was able to stand and started to take the fluids and food,” Rev. Cardello added.
“Sometime later I was informed the she had fully recovered and had been adopted by a family that would give this formally abused dog all the love she would need. Maybe it was just a coincidence or maybe it was something else. I leave it to you to decide but I know what I think,” he added with a smile.
The public blessings began only two years ago and “to date it has not fully caught on. On average we only bless about a half dozen or so pets but hope those numbers will grow over the coming years.”
Among those who brought their pets out to blessed was township resident Lori Sansone who brought Olea who is a hearing assistance dog. “I got her a year and half ago. She is a Labrador golden mix. Olea’s puppy raisers got her blessed, so I want to continue that. Besides my blessing deserves a blessing.” Sansone said.
“All thing bright and beautiful, all things great and small, fur feathers or scales – for those who have shared and had their lives touched by a beloved pet,” Rev. Cardello said.
Bergmann and Rev. Cardello reminded the public that for those who don’t have a pet, the zoo has an animal shelter filled with animals who need homes.
For additional information, directions or information regarding the Popcorn Park Zoo call 609 693-1900 or go to the zoo’s web site ahscares.org.
The Popcorn Park Zoo is located at 1 Humane Way, in the Forked River section of the township, just off Route 539 west, seven miles from the Garden State Parkway exit/entrance.