By Mandy Oaklander
HOUSTON (Reuters) - They came to be blessed, so the Rev. Murray Powell placed his hands on Fifi, Jack and Dr. Who on Saturday afternoon and prayed.
They were dogs and cats, a horse, and, in one case, a python.
The pet blessings, organized in partnership with the Episcopal Diocese of Texas, were the city-run animal shelter's unorthodox way of promoting animal adoption.
Churches typically hold pet blessings throughout October to honor Saint Francis of Assisi, Christianity's patron saint of animals. Though many thought Saint Francis was crazy, Powell said, he believed that animals deserved to hear the gospel.
"Let's not make the decision they can't understand, because they might," said Powell, who came to the shelter known as BARC for the second straight year to perform the blessings.
After Powell blessed each animal, the owner received a certificate commemorating the ceremony.
Among the 20 or so people who brought animals was Lynn Milson, an animal technician at the shelter, who came with one of his 16 snakes.
"Everyone's like, snakes are evil and creepy," he said. "I think it's funny when people see my certificate that a preacher blessed a snake."
BARC is home to about 680 pets, 100 more than the shelter was designed to hold, said Carlene Lormand, community outreach manager for the shelter. Each day, the shelter receives about 125 new animals, including a number that are the victims of animal cruelty, she said.
"It seems like this year, there's been an incredible uptick in cruelty," Lormand said. "We have dogs that have been set on fire, animals that have been thrown off buildings. What we see here every day is the worst of what our society offers to animals."
That's why it's a welcome change to organize an upbeat event, she said.
Carol Barnwell, director of communication for the Episcopal Diocese of Texas, brought the pet blessing idea to the mayor's office last year and was given the green light, she said.
"You always receive more from your pet than you give, love-wise," Barnwell said.
Barnwell encourages churches in the diocese to include mobile adoption clinics when they conduct pet blessings.
At BARC on Saturday, a dozen pets had found new homes by early afternoon. The shelter is also implementing a program designed by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals called Meet Your Match.
"It's a Match.com for animals and people," Lormand said. Animal behaviorists study and classify the pets, while prospective owners take personality tests and are matched accordingly.
But it's because of the pets that aren't lucky enough to be adopted that Powell returned to BARC for a second year.
"It's very powerful to lay your hand on an animal's head knowing that because of its own inability to play well will others, we're going to put it down," Powell said. "I had to come back and do it again."
Inside the wards of sick and lost pets, Powell walked a lap around the cages, looking each animal in the eye and greeting some. Loud barks and wagging tails clanged against the metal cages.
"All right guys," he yelled as he raised one arm, "let us pray."
(Editing by Corrie MacLaggan)