Across the UCC: Pet Sounds

Across the UCC: Pet Sounds

April 30, 2007
Written by Daniel Hazard

Consider the birds of the air

Church rallies to protect 'God's bird' from gunshot

In July 2004, the Michigan legislature reversed a century-long ban on the hunting of Mourning Doves, declaring it a game species just six years after declaring the same species "Michigan's official bird of peace."

For Anne Honhart, a member of Congregational UCC of Birmingham in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., caring for God's creatures is a knee-jerk reaction. Encouraged by her pastor, the Rev. Penny Lowes, Honhart spearheaded the Committee to Restore the Dove Shooting Ban, collecting signatures that added to an overall 270,000 signatures collected — enough to get the attention of the Michigan legislation to put a referendum to stop shooting doves on the November 2006 ballot.

But Honhart didn't stop there. She and her committee, fellow church members Jeanne Servis, Sharon Smith-Noll and John Honhart, as well as Lowes, drafted a resolution to present to the UCC's Michigan Conference.

In her presentation to the Michigan Conference, Honhart emphatically outlined her reasons for protecting the gentle backyard songbird. "This 'game bird' has only a marble-size piece of meat on the breast," she told the Conference, "and is used primarily for target practice. A number of hunters who signed our petitions, including my own brother, are appalled at this 'sport.'"

But Honhart says nobody said it better than a young Detroit man she met during the campaign to gain support for the referendum. He asked, "Why would anyone want to shoot God's chosen bird?"

With the resolution passed and the credentials of the UCC behind her, Honhart and the committee pounded the pavement again, telling anybody who would listen about the referendum and encouraging them to vote. Honhart stood in front of large stores, and even approached people she met at the gas station. The campaign took the committee to every type of house of worship: Indian temples, Mosques and Synagogues, as well as just about every Christian denomination.

"It was a marvelous thing to see this caring and effectiveness that the churches [and faith communities] can have when there's something they can agree on," Honart remembers.

Throughout the many months Honhart spent on the campaign, she said signs kept cropping up, reminding her to keep her faith.

"Our dear dove would show up at the most wonderful times," she marvels. "Once, I was walking out of an Episcopal Church, and a dove flew up on the roof. At the strangest, most appropriate times, the doves would just appear. It was lovely. Almost mystical."

The referendum passed overwhelmingly in the November 2006 election, and the ban on hunting mourning doves is again in place. The victory was gratifying for Honhart, and empowering for Lowes and her church.

"I really have to give credit to [Honhart] for all that we did," Lowes says. "The mourning dove issue was a springboard for our congregation. Because of it, our congregation just adopted three goals, and one of them has to do with stewardship of the earth, the care of God's creation. We are looking at ways to consider being a green church and we're doing some study around those issues."

For Honhart, her fight for birds continues as she is working to educate the public about Safe Passage, an initiative to encourage buildings of five stories or more to turn off their lights overnight during migration season.

"It's very comforting to work through these issues for the betterment of the planet or for [animal] safety and welfare, and justice issues, when you're working through the church," says Honhart. "It's comforting to know there are people out there who are willing to sign, who are willing to raise their voices."

Church's 'Pet Adoption Days' connect animals, families

Clark likens her involvement with ARNNE to an addiction. "Once you know what's out there," she says, "it's pretty impossible not to do something."

Clark and others involved with ARNNE are faithful about hosting Pet Adoption Days. The event is held at Clark's home church, First Congregational UCC in Pelham, N.H.

"We found out that people looking for a pet go to one shelter, don't find what they're looking for, and end up at a pet shop," explains Clark.

By inviting several animal rescues to bring their animals to a central location, like the church, Clark says pet seekers are more than likely to find a good match.

Adopted dogs, cats or other animals, however, never go home directly from the Pet Adoption Days event. ARRNE makes sure that references are checked, and no animal is sent home without being spayed or neutered.

She says she can't prove it, but Clark, a 20-year member of Pelham UCC, believes that holding the Pet Adoption Days inside her church building may also bring people back to church who haven't attended for years.

"We're getting them through the door," she says. "They walk by the care notes up on the bulletin board, or by the Upper Room (devotional booklets). I hope being inside the building for such a good cause might give them a good feeling."

Last year, Clark was part of a widespread rescue effort in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Clark and a handful of volunteers from the Pelham area went to Louisiana to trap homeless dogs and bring them up to New Hampshire to be cared for.

"We brought up between 60 and 70 dogs," remembers Clark. "Some of them were clinging to rooftops; others had formed packs just to scout food. Many of them had to be euthanized."

The memories flood Clark's eyes with tears.

"We found this big Rottweiler," she recalls. "He was the biggest I'd ever seen. [One of our volunteers] decided to take him in. We shoved this huge dog into this little car, and he let out a squeal."

Clark found out later that the dog suffered from multiple fractures, even a broken femur. Clark's heart immediately went out to him. "Most dogs, being in pain like that, and being scared, would've taken your face off for shoving him like that. He's the most gorgeous dog you've ever seen."

Clark hopes others are inspired to support animal rescue.

If you need help coordinating a pet adoption event at your church, contact Donna Clark at or Animal Rescue Network of New England, P.O. Box 1053, Pelham, N.H. 03076.

'PAWS Tampa' assists pet owners with low incomes

Pets are Wonderful Support (PAWS) in Tampa, Fla., provides pet food, veterinary care and medications for pets of people who are HIV positive, have low incomes, or are on disability.

Bryan Arsenault, who attends Florida's First United Church of Tampa and the founder of PAWS Tampa, is requesting help for his fledgling organization.

PAWS Tampa gladly receives donations of food or other pet items, he says, but only accepts direct monetary support when and if a veterinarian bill needs to be paid.

If you would like to make a financial pledge of assistance, Arsenault says your name will be kept on a list and you will be contacted when an animal is in need of veterinarian care.

For more information, contact Brian Arsenault at 813/383-9902 or by e-mail at

Giving animals at Easter is tragic idea

Gift givers be advised: Giving impulse pets at Easter leads to tragic circumstances, says the Humane Society of the United States.

Every year, animal shelters receive a surge of bunnies, chicks, ducks and other cuddly animals that are given up after the owners have lost interest or are unable to care for them. Unfortunately, many are euthanized due to lack of available homes.

Some people release domesticated animals given into the wild, where they are unable to fend for themselves or die of starvation.

"It's not easy breaking the news to a child that their new pet is being given away because the adults in the home made a bad decision," the Humane Society website warns.

Best bet: Stick with marshmallow peeps, not the real ones.

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