CALIFORNIA

Blessing of the Animals draws parrots, ferrets and a llama named Rama

Archbishop Jose Gomez blesses poodles, parrots and pit bulls at the annual Blessing of the Animals

Jodeci the parrot rustled her green-tipped wings as they were splashed with holy water, the droplets glistening in the sun. Her owner beamed as she captured the moment on her cellphone.

It was the mango-colored bird's first time at the annual Blessing of the Animals, which has been held the day before Easter Sunday in the Plaza at Olvera Street since 1930. Jodeci was one of hundreds of animals — mostly dogs, but also cats, goats, turtles, two ferrets and a llama named Rama — blessed by Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Gomez on Saturday.

Jodeci's owner, Sonja Rideout, said she rescued the bird about two years ago and named her after the R&B group. As Jodeci squawked at a reporter and gave Rideout kisses, the Ontario resident said she had heard about the blessing for several years and thought it was finally time to come see it herself.

"Plus, she's torn up three pairs of pajamas," Rideout said. "So I said, 'You're going to be blessed, young lady.'"

The Blessing of the Animals ceremony dates to the 4th century and is "held in grateful recognition of the tremendous services given to the human race by the animal kingdom," according to church officials. On Saturday, pet owners gave varying reasons for why they spent their day at the festival.

One woman with two pit bulls (Violette and Blu) called it a tradition, saying she used to come with her family as a child. Another woman pushing a stroller full of Chihuahuas (Chico, Honey, Poochie, Coco and Sugar) cited her Catholic faith. A couple who attended with their two young children, toy poodle (Sticky) and turtle (Frida) said it was because they thought of their pets as part of their family.

"They're my babies," said Flor Sandoval of Sherman Oaks. "I thought it was beautiful."

Joseph Jaslow's Chihuahua-dachshund mix, Byron, named after the poet, sat serenely in the shade, wearing a Hawaiian shirt, lei and small straw hat. "He's in a festive mood," Jaslow said.

The West Hollywood resident said the blessing had become a tradition, but admitted he didn't have a strong spiritual connection to the event.

"I feel that I'm blessed to have him," Jaslow said. "He doesn't care. But it's a nice thing to do."

A pregnant cow named Surapa led the procession of animals past Gomez, who was standing under a flower-covered arch. For about an hour, he blessed scores of animals. "We have plenty of holy water," the emcee joked.

Owners lifted bird cages, reptile tanks and small dogs toward the archbishop as a mariachi band played in the background. Many of the animals wore costumes. One woman brought a small urn holding the ashes of her dog, Bailey.

Not all the animals enjoyed the experience — an orange and white cat named Hercules tried to make a break for it but was quickly secured by his owner.

Another cat, Raja, perched on his owner's shoulder as he was blessed. Dee Reynolds of Northridge came to the festival for the first time in honor of her brother, who died last year.

Reynolds said her brother was an animal lover who learned of the blessing through volunteer work. He had planned to go himself, she said, but didn't get the chance before he was killed in a hit-and-run.

So Reynolds and her mother, Cathy Adam, brought the cat to Olvera Street. They also brought her brother's dog, a pit mix named Buffy who wore a wreath of flowers around her neck.

"My son always wanted to come down here," Adam said. "We're here in his honor."

@katemather

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