Barking and laughter echoed around the corner of Amsterdam Avenue as children and animals frolicked in -the Cathedral of St. John the Divine garden. Every year on the first weekend of October, the Cathedral organizes the Blessing of the Animals, an annual celebration of the relationship between the animals and their owners. People with or without pets were welcome to join in the fun.

“These events strengthen our community,” said Iva Benson, spokesperson for the Cathedral. “People just gather and share their love for animals.”

The celebration is part of the feast of Saint Francis of Assisi, who loved all creatures and taught his flock that men and animals are brothers and should love each other. The traditional Festal Eucharist and the Blessing of the Animals on the Pulpit Green are part of this celebration even which the Cathedral has hosted for over 30 years.

Children were encouraged to dance with the artists from Mettawee River Dance Theater and interact with animals. New York City Audubon society used the occasion to raise awareness about endangered wild birds in the city. The Animal Care Centers of NYC (ACC) truck was on hand with volunteers encouraging people to adopt pets and support animal rescue.

“I’m here to help all these cuties find their new home,” said ACC volunteer Jared. “And I help people with more info on how to take care of them.”

The event’s centerpiece is the Great Animal Costume Parade where pets wear tailored costumes and walk the “runway.” Best dressed “models” are awarded special snacks.

Some children and parents also took the opportunity to dress in costume, turning the crowd of nearly a hundred strangers into a community connected by joy and kindness. 

Rev. Suheil Dawani gave a special blessing to all in attendance: “For those who deal with animals, we ask a gentle heart of compassion, gentle hands, and kindly words. Amen.” 

This event is one of many that makes the largest church in New York a house of prayer for all people and a unifying center of intellectual light and leadership.