SOMERVILLE, NJ – It is customary for Rev. Ron Pollock to stand on the steps outside St. John’s Episcopal Church to greet worshipers, which is where he was Sunday afternoon, but on this day, he was bending down more than usual to greet his special guests, most of whom were just knee-high.

He extended his hand to all, but some of his guests pushed by without looking his way; others stopped and sniffed his hand and vestments, while others seemed more than happy to lick his hand, sit and be petted.

More than 70 animals, some cats but mostly dogs, accompanied by their owners came to St. John’s for The Blessing of the Animals, an annual Episcopal tradition that commemorates the life of St. Francis of Assisi (1182-1226), the patron saint of animals.

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They sat patiently in the pews on their owners’ laps, some preferring the floor.

Rev. Pollock extended a welcome and asked the pets’ owners to join him in a short prayer before he went to each of the animals to offer his blessing.

Following the blessing of the animals, there was a special pet reception with refreshments and door prizes, bones, chews, and animal toys.

Sunday’s service marked the 17th year that St. John’s has sponsored this community event, which recognizes the importance of pets and animals in people’s lives.