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St. Peter’s Episcopal Church celebrates the Blessing of the Animals to mark the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi

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A volley of yips, yaps and deep-throated barks greeted each new arrival Sunday at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church.

Father John Herring officiated at the Blessing of the Animals, an annual event marking the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi.

About 40 dogs and their owners, along with a few cats meowing plaintively in travel cases, dotted the green beside the church office on East Fourth Street in Rome. Following a short service, Herring moved to bless each pet by name.

“Griffin, fellow creature, friend and companion,” he said as Cathy Varidel’s massive rottweiler, recently diagnosed with bone cancer, rolled over for his touch. “May God your creator and preserver bless, defend, heal, and keep you, this day and forever.”

Some of the pets, including Virginia Hunter’s Zoe, a cottony-soft Coton de Tulear, were old hands at the church community gathering. They calmly surveyed the growing crowd while first-timers, such as Gayle Keith’s little Chihuaha-terrier Dudley, kept a wary watch for potential intruders.

“He’s very protective of me,” Keith said as Dudley warned away another big dog with a growl and a little feint.

Meanwhile, Leigh Patterson’s Weimaraner, Riley, cavorted happily with an old friend, Allan Brown’s Pyrenees mix Zoe.

“They’re best buds,” Brown explained. “Riley was the first dog Zoe saw when I brought her home as a rescue two years ago.”

And Jan Greene introduced her Miss Priss — a schnauzer and silky terrier mix called a silkzer — to Nappa, Maci, Bailey and Noah, the schnauzers brought by D’Ann Downey and Randy Warley.

The little gang of schnauzers kept close to their owners, apparently content to amuse each other and wait their turns. Warley, who called Maci “the wild child” of the bunch, said they’re generally well-behaved.

“But we bring them to have their halos re-polished every year,” he said with a laugh.