God loves all creatures great and small, including Gypsy, a stocky 6-year-old American bulldog born on Super Bowl Sunday.
That was the message shared Sunday afternoon at St. Andrew's Episcopal Church's blessing of the pets, which coincides with the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi.
St. Andrew's Rev. Kathy Monson Lutes said according to St. Francis' legend, he gave up all his worldly wealth and lived a life of poverty, loving all of God's creatures.
Sunday's blessing was a celebration of pets and fellowship in the community, she said.
"It is meant to be a blessing in the neighborhood and the community," Monson Lutes said.
With a blue kerchief tied around her neck, Gypsy waited with her owners, Kim and Mark York, for the 2 p.m. service to begin. Sunday would be at least her fourth time receiving the special blessing.
"It's important for us to have our animals blessed and it's fun for the dogs," Kim York said.
About 45 pet owners, 35 dogs and one cockatiel gathered on the grass in front of the church waiting for the blessing to begin.
"This is an exceptionally good turnout," said Monson Lutes, who has had a horse, cats and gerbils show up to the blessing in years past.
Marrelyce Seaman, the owner of the feathery deviation from the pack, brought the bird, Alexander St. Joseph Seaman, to the blessing safely tucked inside a pet carrier.
"Animals are important to us and important to God," said Marrelyce Seaman, as her husband, David Seaman, held onto the leash of their 7-year-old Scottish terrier, Meg. "They're members of the family."
After those assembled prayed for all of God's creation and creatures, Rev. Monson Lutes and deacons Virginia Bird and Marty Garwood blessed each pet individually.
Walking up to Marrelyce Seaman and Alexander, Monson Lutes placed her hands on the carrier and peered inside at the cockatiel, greeting the bird before starting the blessing.
"O God, you who have made all things for yourself bless Alexander, we pray you, this animal; that he may be a source of love and joy to those with whom he dwells, through Jesus Christ our Lord," said Monson Lutes, praying.
A bit of canine curiosity did rouse a few human chuckles during the short service — a couple of the dogs decided to investigate their four-legged neighbors. But the furry companions, except for a few accepted barks and whines, remained on their best behaviors at the ends of the leashes held firmly by their owners.
After the service, the pets and their owners played and conversed over dog treats and cookies while donations of pet food, blankets and cash were accepted for the Humane Society of the Black Hills.
For Kelly Conroy, the support for the local animal shelter was a big draw for her and her 7-year-old rescue dog Charlie. A Labrador/Akita mix, Charlie had a rough start to life before Conroy's family adopted him from the humane society.
"I thought it was great. I think the best part about it is the fellowship," said Conroy, as she bent down to give her dog an affectionate rub. "And Charlie needs all the blessings he can get."