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Blessing of the Pets

Ceremony at St. John's Episcopal Church in honor of St. Francis of Assisi.

Bright and early Saturday morning, adults, children and their pets came to St. John's Episcopal Church in Centreville's Historic District for the annual Blessing of the Animals.

The ceremony was in honor of St. Francis of Assisi, the Patron Saint of Animals, and presiding over it was the Rev. Howard Kempsell. As each owner handed him a beloved pet, he asked God to watch over and bless it and keep it in good health.

THE FIRST group at Saturday's event brought dogs, cats and birds. However, said Kempsell, "I've even blessed snakes and horses in the past."

Each owner had a different reason for bringing his or her pet, and many brought more than one. Sully Station's Leslie Colberg and her daughter Tiffany, 8, a third-grader at Bull Run Elementary, came with Crumpet, their 8 1/2-year-old cocker spaniel.

"She's had a lot of skin problems," said Tiffany. "And she was paralyzed, but she came back."

"She was a miracle," added Leslie Colberg. "She recovered the night before we were going to put her down. She's the queen of our house and is a very good pet — just wonderful."

Monica Hobby of Centreville's Trinity Centre community brought her two dogs, Molly, 1, a black shepherd/hound mix, and Jordi, 4, a beagle mix.

"Jordi needs blessing because she's always running away," explained Hobby. "We live near a lot of bunnies, and they all come out at night. Jordi's a puppy and needs to calm down."

Larry Schaefer, who sings in St. John's choir and is in charge of its men's club, seemed to be having a tough time holding onto his Akita dog Yusuke, who wanted to break free and play. Akitas are Japanese dogs bred for hunting bear, and Yusuke was named after a Japanese animé character.

"He's 2 years, 9 months and is still growing," said Schaefer. "He's 120 pounds now and should get to about 160 pounds. When he stands up, he comes right up to my face, and I'm 5 feet 8 inches." Schaefer said he came Saturday to help support the pet blessing and because Yusuke is gentle around children and he figured his dog "would have fun around the other animals."

MEANWHILE, Gracie Garcia of Fairfax came with her two beagles, Caleb, 6 1/2, and Joey, 2. But she also brought one of the more unusual pets of the day — a Caique parrot named Alex.

A colorful, green bird with an orange head and yellow feathers, she came to the ceremony in her cage. When asked why she brought her parrot to the blessing, Garcia responded matter-of-factly, "Because she's a member of the family."