Service goes to the dogs ... and horses and hamsters

St. John's Episcopal Church blesses pets to celebrate St. Francis of Assisi

They were, as a group, good dogs. But as the organ tones rose and parishioners at Boulder's St. John's Episcopal Church launched into a series of "hallelujahs" during the opening hymn, it was just too much.

And so they barked. And barked and barked.

At the annual "Blessing of the Animals " day at St. John's on Sunday, the church went to the dogs -- several dozen of them -- not to mention a couple of quarterhorses and a male hamster named Misty.

"I'm sorry, this is so silly, this is great," said Sally Johnstone, an usher at the 10 a.m. ceremony, as she looked down the center aisle at a handful of parked dogs.

The Blessing of the Animals service honors St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals . Each year on a Sunday close to The Feast of St. Francis of Assisi, St. John's holds a short service followed by an outdoor blessing of whichever pets happen to show up.

Erin Harding and her daughter Gracie, 9, led their quarterhorses into the church's courtyard, where, like oversized goats, the horses happily consumed a section of lawn.

"I'd be happy for a little divine inspiration, because she threw me," said Erin, motioning to the 7-year-old horse Lexie, who appeared to have forgotten the July incident.

They grazed on bluegrass for several minutes until a long procession of pets and their human attendants poured out into the morning sun. The Rev. Rol Hoverstock and four others blessed the horses, the dogs and the hamster, who scratched frantically at the translucent plastic orb that encased him.

"And may you always be a loyal companion to those who love you," the holy man said to the rodent.

Kirsten Rowley, 6, holding the hamster, said she brought Misty "because I wanted to share him with people."

Hoverstock said the blessings were meant for humans, as well. By celebrating all creatures of creation, he said, people can learn to treat each other better.

Conspicuously absent were cats. Halea Kerr-Layton, 6, had a photo of her cats Yogi (deceased) and Sassy blessed by Hoverstock.

"We were worried about all the dogs," said her mother, d`Layne Kerr-Layton.