Pandemic prompts drive-through pet blessing in Philippines

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MANILA (Reuters) - Coronavirus-wary animal owners in the Philippines had their pets blessed via a drive-through ceremony on Sunday to mark World Animal Day and the feast of Saint Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals.

From a safe distance inside their owners’ cars, cats, dogs, and birds were sprinkled with holy water by a Catholic priest in Manila, as the nation’s coronavirus cases continued to surge.

The Philippines has recorded a total of 322,497 coronavirus infections, the highest in Southeast Asia.

Organisers and participants said this year’s unusual way of blessing pets for World Animal Day, celebrated worldwide to recognise animal rights and welfare, ensured social distancing.

“We have to adapt to the new normal and the pandemic should never stop us from paying tribute to the furry animals that we have,” said Ritchie Pascual, one of the event organisers.

For dog-owner Arlene Pedron, having her pet blessed is “very important...because we really feel like our pet is part of our family”.

“We also want the best for his health,” Pedron said, while waiting in line with her two-year-old golden retriever.

Reporting by Adrian Portugal; writing by Enrico Dela Cruz; editing by Barbara Lewis