Auckland's St Matthew-In-The-City hosted a congregation of a different kind today when all of God's creatures were welcomed for the annual Blessing of the Animals service.
SPCA Auckland executive director Bob Kerridge said the service was officially a celebration of the life of St Francis of Assisi, but also offered pet owners a chance to bring their animals to church to celebrate their lives together and the presence of animals everywhere.
Prior to the service, animal lovers and a wide variety of creatures met at Elizabeth Square for the Great Animal Walk up Queen St, accompanied by the City of Manukau Pipe Band, the SPCA Auckland Dog Squad, and Outreach Therapy Pets.
Once at St Matthew's, the church filled to capacity, with donkeys, miniature ponies, cats in doll's prams, rats and a wide range of dogs making up the quirky congregation.
"We're gathered here today to celebrate the entire animal kingdom and give thanks to their friendship," Mr Kerridge said.
"To the birds who fill our skies with joyful sounds, to the exotic animals who live in distant lands and environments whose natural beauty and mysteries still amaze and inspire us, to our companion animals who share their lives with us and provide their uncomplicated love and trust in us, the world around us is filled with the beauty of animals and their presence makes us the richer for it."
Tributes were given for animals which had been tortured, abandoned and used for experimentation.
Mark Burt came to the service with his two 18-month-old rats Nudgey and Budgey.
"I've just realised how versatile they can be. I'm a gardener and they go with me on my gardening expeditions once a week."
Mr Burt said he used to breed hamsters as a child and always liked rodents.
Dorothy Mustor had come with her 11-year-old Japanese Akita called Angel. Both are honorary members of the Kiwi Newfoundlands club.
Ms Mustor said they had come to the Blessing of the Animals service for the past three years. She enjoyed getting together with other animals and their owners, and having Angel blessed.
"It's just a really nice day."
Ross and Liz Grant were also at the service with their 3-year-old Bullmastiff Monty.
Wearing a custom-made t-shirt printed with "It's all about Monty", Ms Grant said she hoped he wouldn't grow anymore as he "takes up enough room on the bed as it is".
They brought Monty to St Matthew's to have him blessed and to show off the breed, she said. "They get a bad rap and he loves everything".
"He's a bit of an ambassador for the breed really."