MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - A chihuahua in sunglasses, a tiny albino mouse and a turtle were among the animals lined up at Catholic churches across Mexico City on Thursday for an annual blessing to mark Saint Anthony the Abbott's feast day.
In a tradition carried out each year in a handful of Catholic countries, Mexicans dressed up pets in vibrant frocks and tied ribbons on their ears so they could be sprinkled with holy water by a priest reading a special animal prayer.
"Maybe with the blessing she will be better behaved, because she's very naughty," said 19-year-old Beatriz Zuniga, clutching a yowling, wriggling kitten dressed in a tight pink T-shirt and a paper bow and wrapped in a blanket.
On the steps of the San Fernando church in central Mexico City, schnauzers, labradors, poodles and a pug jostled around the local priest and barked at canaries carried in cages.
"I've brought her every year to be blessed, so she stays in good health, and she has reached 17 years old," said Luz Maria Sevilla, 50, of her miniature white chihuahua "Dolly," whose fluffy pink coat clashed with the yellow plastic sunglasses and trendy tartan cap of her offspring "Pituka."
Franciscan monks brought the animal blessing to Mexico during Spanish colonial rule.
The tradition marks the anniversary of the death of Saint Anthony the Abbott, a 4th century Egyptian Christian who gave his inheritance to the poor and lived a spiritual monastic life in the desert with only animals for company.
He was later made a patron saint of animals, like the better known Saint Francis of Assisi.
"Living together with animals is the most beautiful thing," said Father Miguel Monroy, who said he avoids letting the animals inside San Fernando, a pretty 18th century Baroque church, because they tend to fight and leave puddles.
"The blessing is to protect them and keep them in good health," he said, adding that he once blessed a couple of iguanas and a three foot (1 meter) crocodile.
At an outdoor mass in the southern canal-crossed Mexico City district of Xochimilco, a parrot, two calves, a goldfish and a tortoise gathered alongside yelping dogs in shoulder bags. Horses and chickens commonly arrive after sundown.
Poodles, canaries, turtles blessed in Mexico