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Critters of every ilk merit blessing

There were creatures great and small — from a llama to a turtle.

They were gathered Sunday at Good Shepherd Episcopal Church in Lexington for a blessing of the animals.

"He needs a blessing because he has bad feet," Officer Lisa Rakes with the Lexington police's mounted unit said of her horse, Jake. "I'm hoping this will do the trick."

Carrying a bowl of water blessed especially for the ceremony, the Rev. Elise Johnstone, the assistant to the rector, touched her fingers in water and made the sign of the cross on Jake's nose.

She blessed Jake's full brother, Jester, also a police horse, ridden by Officer David Johnson. "Bless, O Lord, this creature of God, and fill our hearts with thankfulness for its being," Johnstone said.

For 15 years, Good Shepherd has observed St. Francis Sunday and blessed any animals that people bring. On Sunday, about 40 animals were blessed by the clergy.

This year, the church added to the straight blessing a new attraction, the St. Francis Festival, to help raise money to send 30 or so children and adult choir members to Ely Cathedral in Ely, England, next July.

The cost will be about $3,000 per person.

Set up outside the church in Bell Court were carnival games, food booths, and attractions such as snakes and sheep that kids could pet.

St. Francis of Assisi lived in 13th-century Italy and is the patron saint of animals.

"He understood that all of God's creatures were beloved," said Susan Wright, a festival organizer. "He's known to have calmed a wolf from terrorizing a town, and he preached to the birds."

In glass cages were lots of scary-looking insects — still God's creatures — thanks to the University of Kentucky's Department of Entomology.

Carolyn Purcell brought her two Norfolk terriers, who seemed so excited to see other dogs that they barked — really, more of a squeak than a bark — at every canine that went by. "They can use a blessing," Purcell said.

Most animals did seem on their best behavior. The beautiful Burmese python just kept curling around the waist of its handler, Kristen Wiley, flicking its pink tongue.

And Reba Roberts' dog, Jingles Burton, just plopped on the ground — practically nose to nose — next to Peaches the cat, owned by Elizabeth Keppman.

The unusual sight caused the Rev. Bob Sessum to exclaim, "I can't believe it. It's like the lion and the lamb."

Sessum, an old hand at this animal blessing thing, was asked if animals seem to behave any better after the ceremony. With a grin, he said, "Some people say they're better. Some people say it didn't take. Some people ask how long the warranty lasts."

Oh, ye of little faith.