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Man’s Blessed Friends : Religion: Pet owners with their dogs, cats, rats and spiders flocked to the San Fernando Mission for a ceremony for animals.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Rocky Cordova was not exactly sure what a priestly blessing would do for Splinter, his white rat. The 9-year-old just knew it was important, one of those things perhaps best left a mystery of faith.

“It makes them nice,” Rocky surmised Sunday as Splinter scurried across his shoulders and down his arm. “I don’t know. I guess God protects them.”

And so Rocky resolutely brought Splinter--along with his turtle, Raphael; tarantula, Charlotte; and beagle, Cleopatra--to be blessed in a ceremony at San Fernando Mission attended by about 75 other pet owners from across the San Fernando Valley.

Once a regular event at the mission, the blessing of the animals had been discontinued for several years before Sunday’s ceremony. A much larger blessing ceremony is held annually on Olvera Street, near downtown Los Angeles.

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The event at the mission probably did more to soothe the souls of the human owners than it did to save the souls of the pets, who endured--some graciously, others grudgingly--being sprinkled with holy water.

“I think the blessing works better for the people than the dogs,” said Orick Ratzlaff as he fed peanuts to Amy, his “purebred American cur.”

Like Rocky, few among the crowd had thought much about the implications of blessing.

Most figured it would protect their precious pooches from meeting an untimely demise under the wheels of some car. Some thought it might just be a good little bit of insurance.

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“I’ve been told that animals don’t have souls, but when you hold a little breathing being that expresses love, it’s hard to believe that,” said Loretta Zarlenga of Sylmar as her dog, Abby, wrapped her legs in a leash.

Even Msgr. Francis J. Weber, who bestowed the blessings dressed in a splendid robe once worn by French statesman Cardinal Armand du Plessis de Richelieu, found it difficult to explain the importance of pet salvation.

“We just do things and let the Lord decide what the actual effect will be,” Weber said. “I suppose it makes them good Catholic pets. We bless the animals so they will be happy in serving man, which is their duty.”

The only animal banned from receiving Weber’s blessing was the snake, a biblical symbol of Satan. Not even Rocky’s tarantula was turned away.

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“They said no snakes but they didn’t say nothing about no spiders,” said Rocky’s father, also named Rocky Cordova.


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