What Is Santeria? Couple Accused of Cruelty to Animals Say Their Religion Is Misunderstood

File Photo: People pray, smoke cigars and light up candles at the Maria Lionza shrine at the Sorte Mountain on the outskirts of Chivacoa, in the state of Yaracuy, Venezuela October 11, 2015. REUTERS/Marco Bello

A couple have denied cruelty to animals after being seen draining the blood of goat and a number of chickens in their garage.

Robert and Irma Talamantez were reported to sheriff's deputies in Bexar County, Texas, Friday after their neighbors saw them sacrificing animals through their open garage door.

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But the couple, adherents to the mystical African faith known as Santeria, argue that neither they nor the 11 other individuals at the ceremony were distressing the animals.

Robert Talamantez, who conducted the ceremony, said that they had slit the throats of a goat, three roosters, a pigeon and some chickens in their ceremony. When deputies arrived some of the animals were being cooked for a ceremonial dinner.

"We had animals in cages and inside the bags, but they weren't being abused," Talamantez said according to ABC affiliate KSAT 12.

He argued that the conditions at the ceremony were no worse than might be found in a slaughterhouse. "The African religion of Santeria is being criticized as [if], you know, we're cruel people. We're not cruel people," Talamantez explained.

Santeria, a religion of African origin and similar to voodoo, is a mixture of Caribbean, West African and Spanish ceremony. The faith is based on the veneration of saints.

The interrupted ceremony Talamantez was holding on Friday was meant to mark an initiate's journey to sainthood after a year of wearing white, and giving up daily customs like eating at a table.

The blood from the slaughtered animals was used to "feed" the saints which are represented by rocks in containers.

The Talamatez's have said following their arrests that they will not stop practicing their religion but they may make some changes to their ceremonies. "If you're a nudist, you don't go nuding in your front yard, right? You keep it within your home," Talamantez said, adding that in the future "I won't have the garage door open."