Cannondale merchants work to bring back blessing of the animals

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Sometimes good ideas from the past are worth repeating.
That’s the motto this fall for the businesses of Cannon Crossing, whose owners are working together to revive the old Blessing of the Animals tradition that was a part of the quaint historic district in the 1980s.
“We’re trying hard,” said Eve Raymond, owner for the past 31 years of the British food and gift shop called Penny Ha’Penny, at the crossing. “We’re doing it because it was a fabulous time of the year we were all very involved with.”
A railroad station and a group of stores and restaurants along the Norwalk River attract visitors from town and out of town.
The original Blessing of the Animals was led by the late actress June Havoc, who once owned Cannon Crossing. It was popular in the 1980s, with guests including Wilton resident Christopher Walken in 1986, but there hasn’t been one since the 1990s.
There have been other animal blessings in town since then, but Cannondale’s was the original.
“It was June Havoc’s baby, not ours. It was a tradition that went on for years, until she left, and it was more than we knew how to handle ourselves,” Raymond said.
It was traditionally held in mid-December, and helped usher in the holidays.
“It was a nice community time,” Raymond said. “Everybody came to the village and the animals all got along. It was an amazing experience to me to see all these animals get along. There was one pig that didn’t want to come, he squealed, but eventually came along.”
Other businesses participating include Fidelco guide dogs and Paw-radise Grooming Salon & Spa, where owner Aleida Kohen has for years been the biggest proponent of bringing back the tradition. There is also the Schoolhouse Restaurant, Forza 5 Holistic Fitness & Healing Center, and Annabel Green.
“Dec. 4 is our target date, in the parking lot,” Raymond said. “We’ll do it on a Sunday because it’s a family day and that’s what this is, a family event.” It is scheduled for 2 to 4 p.m.
It is uncertain which local clergy will officiate. “We’re hoping to have not just one, but multiple,” Raymond said. The prayers won’t be hard to find.
“I still have copies of June Havoc’s generic blessing, which I hope the clergy will use, just because,” she said.
It will be an ecumenical service, not slanted to one religion or branch or another.
“It’s not particular to anyone,” she said.
The courtyard and building will be decorated, there will holiday music, possibly a choir, and animal-related nonprofits and other vendors will be invited.
The word will get out the new-fashioned way. In addition to social media and online promotion, via email invitations and press releases to local media, Fidelco is fortunate to have hundreds of dedicated volunteers who will assist with promoting the event by hanging posters in the community and in neighboring towns, and distributing invitation flyers at events like the Chamber of Commerce Holiday Stroll, said Pat Cavanaugh, spokesman for Fidelco guide dogs.
Fidelco Guide Dog Foundation opened its Fairfield County office and Norma F. Pfriem Training Center in Wilton just under a year ago, Cavanaugh said. “We’ve been eager to engage with the community and share our life-changing guide dog mission. We paid a visit to the Cannondale shopkeepers just across the street from our office to discuss potential opportunities of supporting one another,” Cavanaugh said.
“Eve Raymond, owner of Penny Ha’Penny, was the first to suggest the idea of including Fidelco in the event, and coincidentally, in a separate conversation, Debra Hanson, executive director at the Chamber, also suggested that we take part in reviving the blessing of the animals event — we happily obliged,” Cavanaugh said. ”We are grateful that this exciting event has now turned into a third-party fund-raiser for our organization, and Fidelco is now the nonprofit beneficiary of any net proceeds.”
The animals will be the ones receiving the blessings, though.
“We are expecting at least 50 animals to join us — assuming mostly dogs and cats — but back in the day people brought horses, ducks, pigs, rabbits, etc. We welcome all species so long as the owners are keeping safety at the forefront,” Cavanaugh said. “Everyone will have the opportunity to engage with our exceptional breed of Fidelco German shepherd dogs — and maybe some puppies, too.”