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If It Flies, Swims, Hops or Barks -- It's Blessed

October 08, 2006|Mai Tran | Times Staff Writer

At 3 1/2 years old, Abbott, a Yorkshire terrier from Laguna Niguel, smelled something suspicious Saturday.

His owners, Sally and Ted Shiebler, woke him up early to give him a bath.

"It's a very important day," said Sally Shiebler, 72, petting her brown and black dog. "We have four children and this is our fifth. We have blessed all of our children, so why not our dog?"

The little canine was among 70 pets brought to the Mission Basilica San Juan Capistrano on Saturday to be blessed by the priest as parishioners celebrated the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals.

"The notion of blessing is a way of expressing gratitude to God for the joy that these animals and pets bring to our lives," said Father Arthur Holquin, who began the tradition when he became pastor in 2004.

Scattered on the front steps of the church were fish, birds, cats, rabbits, an iguana and dogs -- some draped in blankets and wearing fancy leashes -- waiting their turn as Holquin sprinkled holy water on them one at a time. Many pets jumped back, others barked and some licked his face.

Abbott chose to sniff the priest's right cheek.

For such good behavior during his 10-second ceremony, the terrier's owners said they planned to reward him with treats. "He's getting a microchip tracker put in so we can never lose him," Sally Shiebler said.

Stephanie Alvarez, 7, of Lake Forest carried her six fresh-water rainbow fish to the church in a plastic container, hoping the priest's blessing would make them behave.

"They're being bad," she said. "They've been fighting and biting each other. I came home from school and they ate one of the other fishes, and only the tail was left."

Blanca Serrado's son, Jonathan, had gone off to Yale University, leaving her with his 16-year-old, red-eared turtle, Mikey.

"We go to church, and Mikey has been a part of our family, so this is a good way to let him be a part of the church too," the mother said.

The turtle, who at 3 pounds was almost too big for his container, seemed to know it was a special day, Serrado said. "He's normally in his shell when there's a lot of people," she said, "but today he's very active. He's so excited, he's been trying to climb out."

Madelyn Savan, 10, waited off to the side with Angel, a 5-year-old mixed terrier and German shepherd she described as friendly to humans but not to other animals.

As Holquin blessed her, Angel's eyes opened wide. He jumped back, then stuck his tongue out to catch a drop of holy water. "Dogs don't go to heaven," the Laguna Niguel girl said. "I'm hoping the blessings will let her go to heaven now."

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