Yapping, wagging and purring for attention, several dozen dogs and playful kittens -- even a gray rabbit -- were cradled and blessed Thursday on the steps of St. Patrick's Cathedral.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan led the celebration of the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi.
Dolan couldn't resist the charms of Gabriel, holding the 5-year-old Yorkie close to his chest before reciting the blessing.
"We see God's hands on these little creatures. God never wastes his breath when he breathes new life into nature," Dolan said after sprinkling holy water on dogs clutched by animal rescuers.
Stepping inside one of the "Wheels of Hope" rescue vans run by an animal rescue group, the cardinal greeted a group of cats and kittens, giving each a special prayer.
Afterward, he commended the work of the volunteers and staff, whose efforts demonstrate "their respect for life."
The group, the Mayor's Alliance for NYC's Animals, is a 9-year-old nonprofit that works with the city's animal control office. It saves an estimated 16,000 dogs, cats and other pets -- even the occasional exotic animal -- from being euthanized each year, officials said.
"This is a wonderful place to bring attention to the many homeless animals that need a family," said alliance president Jane Hoffman outside the Manhattan cathedral.
"The journey for these pets has been hard. Many were victims of abuse and abandonment," she said. "They deserve a loving home."
The blessing of pets is held every fall in remembrance of Assisi and his love for all creatures.
Thursday's event appeared to soothe Gareth, a 5-year-old wire-haired terrier whose owner died last month, said Sandra DeFeo, executive director of the Humane Society of New York City.
"When Gareth came to us, he was shell-shocked; he looked sad. But today he's getting out and meeting new people, and he's got a new haircut so he's got a new lease on life," DeFeo said.
"It's always a blessing to be blessed," she added. "We feel blessed that we can save these animals. You can tell that the animals feel it, too."