Following in the footsteps of their patron saint, parishioners of St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in Fillmore gathered Sunday to bless their animals.
A collection of creatures ranging from hamsters to horses stood in a semicircle around Father Norm Supancheck and two assistants for prayers and a brief Bible reading from the book of Genesis.
For the past six years, the animal blessings have been the congregation's traditional way to mark the anniversary of their saint's death.
"We will bless the animals first in Spanish, then in English," Supancheck told about 50 pet owners standing next to their animals. "They will be doubly blessed."
Many of the animals stood quietly, some bedecked with flowers and seemingly content to be surrounded by their natural enemies. A cage crammed with cockatiels whistled throughout the proceedings, and verses read in Spanish were punctuated by horse whinnies.
Dogs outnumbered other animals. Some of the handlers struggled to keep their canines controlled, but growling ceased as the ceremony progressed. A few cats crouched nervously in cages, but one kitten riding on a woman's shoulder paid no attention to surrounding dogs.
Prayers included a reminder to humans to be good caretakers and thanks "for the pets who give us joy." The ceremony concluded with Supancheck sprinkling the animals en masse with holy water, causing one horse to flinch in surprise.
The pets presented were fewer and less varied than in past years, Supancheck said. "Where were the snakes?" Supancheck asked, as the pet owners dispersed. "And the spiders?"