By Gina Baldivieso
El Alto, Bolivia, Aug 16 (EFE).- The barking of dozens of dogs echoed in the atrium of the Body of Christ parish, in the Bolivian city of El Alto, on Tuesday at a mass celebrated to bless the canines and their humans on Saint Roch’s Day.
Priest Justino Limachi and volunteers set up an altar on the outer steps of the church with the image of the patron saint of dogs and placed some chairs around to receive the residents of Villa Adela neighborhood of El Alto.
The faithful came to receive communion with the dogs, and at the end of the celebration, Limachi blessed them with water.
“God has blessed us with a friend and that friend is the pet we have in the house. For me it’s all these puppies,” Limachi told EFE.
It has been customary for more than a decade in the parish to bless the animals on the feast of Saint Roch, a tradition that has survived the 2016 death of its creator, the German priest Sebastián Obermaier, Limachi recalled.
Some of the dogs were dressed in their best clothes, such as Hachi, a friendly chow chow who wore a suit along with his brothers Chispita, Vaquita and Negrito – three ch’apis, as small dogs with fluffy, curly hair similar to the Maltese or bichon frisé are called in Bolivia.
Their owner Katherine told EFE that they are like children to her, and that she gladly provides them with the care they require, from good nutrition, baths and haircuts, to buying clothes and beds for each.
“The puppy cannot do things on its own, it is like a baby (…) It is important for me that they come, that they have fun, that they see other puppies and receive the blessing,” said Katherine.
There was also the mischievous Edith, resembling a black terrier, who scampered around in front of the patient gaze of her siblings and cousins Scotty, Justin and Mafalda, three older mixed breeds.
Cocker spaniels, dachshunds, bull terriers, pekingese and a variety of mixed breeds also participated in the service, some sitting silently and a majority interrupting the chants and prayers with their barking.
There’s also the faithful guardian of the parish, little Gugui, a brown-colored mix with big ears who is the darling of Father Limachi and who listens to mass near the altar.
Gugui “gives life to the parish, takes care of it, accompanies me. At night he closes the door with me,” and is very polite “and does not let drunks enter the parish,” because once he saw drunk people causing damage to the church, the priest said.
Limachi expressed his wish that “all humanity love the puppies” like the people who attended the blessing.
“But unfortunately it is not like that. We see so many puppies on the street (…) in the dump,” lamented the priest.
As in Villa Adela, there were tributes and celebrations for dogs in other places, such as the Alteño neighborhood of Ciudad Satélite, whose inhabitants remembered Choco, a mixed breed who was the community guardian and was stabbed to death while trying to defend his neighbors from would-be thieves.
The dog died in 2014 and two years later the residents of Ciudad Satélite erected a monument in his honor, which on Tuesday was decorated in flowers, balloons and a message against the mistreatment of animals.
In neighboring La Paz and other Bolivian cities, costume contests and vaccination campaigns were organized, among other activities. EFE