Day for Creatures Great and Small : Religion: Three horses and a cockatoo are among the beasts attending church's annual Blessing of the Animals.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The minister read biblical verses predicting that one day the wolf will live with the lamb, that the cow and bear shall graze together.

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"We see in Scripture," the Rev. Steve Frank said Saturday at an outdoor service attended by 30 people, a dozen dogs, three horses, a donkey, a cockatoo and a tortoise, "that God's intent for us is to live in peace and harmony."

Just then, a dog barked loudly in the back and an irritated horse stepped away from the noisy canine.

"Some of our creatures are still learning that," remarked Frank, who presided over Shadow Hills Presbyterian Church's annual Blessing of the Animals.

The 193-member congregation, situated in the midst of horse country, has been holding the informal outdoor rites for nearly 10 years.

Catholic and Episcopal churches hold the blessings, if at all, in October around the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi, the medieval lover of animals. (However, the Olvera Street merchants usually host an animal blessing ceremony in the Old Plaza on the Saturday before Easter.)

The Shadow Hills church conducts the event the day before Palm Sunday, the holiday that recalls the biblical account of Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey.

Indeed, the church had a donkey on hand to be blessed: Walter, a veteran of two holiday stage productions at the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove. The donkey also will participate in the Presbyterian congregation's Palm Sunday service today. Walter will be led down the center aisle behind children waving palm fronds.

"This is the donkey with the cross on his back," said church caretaker Dean Ball, who described Walter as a Mojave Desert donkey, which has a characteristic dark stripe down his spine intersected by another dark stripe running between his front legs.

A guest speaker at the Saturday blessing was Shadow Hills resident Millicent Wood-Harris, president of the education-oriented Wildlife on Wheels and the representative in Southern California of the Berkeley-based Bird Rescue Research Center.

To the delight of youngsters present, she held high a cockatoo, then a California desert tortoise. The former is a very intelligent animal and the latter is an endangered species, Wood-Harris said.

"These are examples of two animals that need extra care and attention, that need an extra blessing," she said.

No rabbits, cats or rodents showed up Saturday. Church member Becky Sobeck said she had a friend whose daughter has a pet python, but no snake put in an appearance either.

Stan Watt of Sunland recalled one year when a girl about 5 years old approached then-Pastor Craig Hall at the ceremony with a clenched fist extended in front of her.

"She opened up her fist and there was a sow bug that she wanted blessed," Watt said.

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