Music director Randy Knutson was leading a hymn at the beginning of a special service on Sunday at St. John's Episcopal Church, but he got some extra help.
Several dogs joined in, howling seemingly in unison through the hymn. The pooches were having a good time at the special outdoor service.
Maybe it was because they were about to receive God's blessing.
St. John's in Lodi and St. Luke's Episcopal Church in Galt celebrated their annual Blessing of the Animals, a tradition started by St. Francis of Assisi, who lived in the 12th century and is known as the patron saint of animals and the environment.
St. John's second service on Sunday, usually indoors in the sanctuary, was a shortened service outside behind the church near the historic chapel. The animals, especially the many dogs attending, seemed to be ready for the blessing.
"Why are we doing this outside?" Father Harold Clinehens said. "Because it's fun."
After the opening hymn and a psalm, lay minister Bob Gorczyca gave thanks to God for the animals he provides.
"We thank you for the richness of animal life, for fish and birds, insects, microbes, reptiles, for creatures that are cute and cuddly, and those that are not," Gorczyca said.
"We thank you for the animals that both serve us and provide faithful companionship, joy when we are happy and comfort when we are sad or ill," he said. "Help us to show the same kindness toward them as they do toward us."
Then the masters took their pets one by one to the makeshift pulpit, where Clinehens, a retired priest and lay ministers sprayed them with holy water sent a waft of incense their way.
Most of the blessed were dogs, but there were some cats — mostly kept in their cages — as well as pigeons, a turtle, a tarantula and a horse. In the case of the horse, Clinehens went to him.
"It's nice that they take the approach that we're stewards of God's creatures," Lodi resident Kevin Byrne said after the blessing of his dog, Nemo, a barkless hunting dog from Africa called a Basenji.
"The neighbors love him," Byrne said of his barkless dog.
The dogs, who dutifully sat through much of the service, got a little restless as their masters accepted Communion. Instead of the traditional wafer, parishioners were given animal crackers.