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Wednesday, 17 January, 2001, 14:48 GMT
Pet blessing excites Madrid
Father Villar blesses a hyacinth macaw
Father Villar blesses a hyacinth macaw
By Flora Botsford in Madrid

Hundreds of pet-lovers in the Spanish capital, Madrid, have been flocking to church to have their animals blessed in holy water by a Catholic priest.

A long-haired cat receives a blessing
Cats and dogs made up the majority of animals blessed
It's the festival of San Anton, the patron saint of domestic animals and a popular tradition with Madrid residents, many of whom believe the blessing guarantees a long and healthy life for their animal companions.

There was cheerful chaos outside the church as crowds pushed and shoved their way towards the priest, trying not to trample smaller animals underfoot.

Many people carried their pets - mostly dogs and cats - but there were also caged birds, guinea pigs and hamsters.

Football colours

Some of the dogs were dressed up in the colours of local football teams; others were wearing ribbons and bells.

Pig outsde San Anton church
Farm animals received a splash of holy water too
Each pet received a blessing from the priest, who sprinkled them with holy water from the church doorway.

The ritual is said to protect the animal from ill-health and originated because animals instinctively surrounded the saint during his lifetime.

One elderly participant had brought her dog but didn't believe anything special would come of it.

"It's a lovely festival - I adore animals and for me, it's just a chance to see lots of animals together," she said.

Fur clothes


In 2000, 60% of puppies were abandoned

Javier Cuellar
Animal support groups, meanwhile, tried to publicize the plight of thousands of pets abandoned every year, especially after Christmas and during the long summer holidays.

Javier Cuellar had on display a gruesome collection of photographs - he says cruelty to animals remains a serious problem in Spain.

"Last year, in 2000, 60% of puppies were abandoned and I expect this year will be the same. We're still waiting to find out."

Spain does have a long way to go when it comes to real respect for animals.

Although things are changing, one couldn't help noticing the incongruous mix of numerous fur coats and hats, still very popular here, with all the pampered pets.

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