Pet owners and their pets will soon be filling the pews at St Matthew-In-The City in Auckland central for the traditional celebration of St Francis of Assisi, the Patron Saint of Animals.
For the past 27 years, Bob Kerridge, Auckland SPCA Executive Director, has organised the gathering of an eclectic array of animals with their proud owners for the Blessing Ceremony.
"The result is sheer pandemonium," Mr Kerridge says. “It is not all serious and too churchified, because with the animals in there, you can be jolly that sure that it's not.
“It's just a lot of fun with people and families with animals of a whole variety of sizes and shapes all singing away in church, and I mean literally, all singing away, celebrating the life of animals that we enjoy.”
This year the event, celebrated in many countries, is arranged for Sunday, October 2.
The congregation has previously been made up of mice and rats, guinea pigs, budgies and cockatoos and larger animals, including cats and dogs up to donkeys and goats, together with their human families.
The church once welcomed a Brahma bull who made a spectacular appearance, Mr Kerridge said, and a penguin from the North Shore was also in the pew.
Dogs formed the largest group and there is always one who howls just like a wolf, he said, adding that the animals seem to realise they are in a sacred place because they are always well behaved.
“I do the clean-up afterwards and I've got to say there are very few puddles that I come across. They must all cross their legs!”
This year the event begins at 1.00pm, preceded by a walk with the animals up Queen Street leaving downtown's Elizabeth Square at 12.15pm.
Included in the festivities will be the stars from Shortland Street reading some amusing prayers for the animals, a pipe band and a moving candle ceremony. Wilf Holt, Deacon of St Matthew and Patron of SPCA Auckland, will deliver the address.