Paws in the Pews

“You think dogs will not be in heaven? I tell you, they will be there long before any of us.” —Robert Louis Stevenson

It’s hard to remember exactly how it began. Maybe it was when it was so cold or hot outside that we encouraged a visitor who had driven a long distance to be with us to bring their dog in from the car. Or was it when the pastor’s small Lhasa Apso was very sick and needed continuous observation and frequent attention? The precedent also could have occurred when a former church member cycled 15 miles on the bike path with her large dog and stopped in to say hello on a hot summer day when she was in town on vacation. We put out a bowl of water for her thirsty dog, and they both stayed for the worship service.

Informal, diverse, and welcoming are adjectives often used to describe our small church family in the Sun Valley mountain resort community of Idaho. There are times when there are more visitors than regular members, and we have long been accustomed to vacationers showing up with ski pants and jackets, motorcycle leathers, cycling jerseys, hiking boots, or jeans and t-shirts.

It seems natural that a considerable part of our "congregation" is now composed of creatures with four paws, fur coats, and collars around their necks. They, like us two-legged worshippers, look forward to greeting the other canine regulars on Sabbath mornings: Stanley, Koda, Lily, Emma, Esta, Moose, Jaxon, Buddy, Cheska, Rogue, and Bentley. Puccini, a fluffy white Bichon Frise, shows up for the summer-autumn season in the mountains after a winter-spring sojourn in Palm Desert.

Buddy always arrives dressed to impress with a sporty bandana.

Bentley and Rogue like to serve as greeters.

John Hall, head elder, says that being able to bring Stanley to church adds to his own enjoyment of Sabbath as he observes Stanley, an extroverted Chihuahua, reveling in the music — sometimes “singing along” — and enthusiastically greeting both his human and canine friends. Martha Miller, who gets the award for bringing the biggest dog, Jaxon, a Boxer-Rottweiler mix, believes that an unusually close bond has formed among the members as we have come to know each other’s dogs. “And these dogs serve as examples for all of us of unconditional love.”

How do visitors react when they step into the church and see dogs laying on the floor or curled up on someone’s lap? They are surprised and enthusiastic. Especially children. Many visitors have brought their “best friend” along when they return again. It also seems that people are more likely to stay for potluck and linger over lively discussions if they are not concerned about leaving a dog home alone too long. We also know that some of our visitors who drive a couple hours to join us do so more often because they can bring their best friends with them. However, if someone mentions they are allergic to dogs, the dog owners are careful about keeping their pets separated from that person.

Jaxon and Moose watch the offering plate being passed.

Esta and Cheska hear the bell that signals the end of lesson study.

We are in a dog-crazy community. One of the largest nonprofits here is Mountain Humane, an organization which thinks and acts way beyond the traditional walls of an animal shelter. During the summer, hikers can connect with a dog in the shelter at a popular trailhead and give the dog a wonderful outing for a few hours. They offer summer camps and facilitate book clubs, and their thrift store — The Barkin’ — is a go-to place for both locals and tourists. Many local FedEx and UPS drivers carry dog treats in their trucks, and lots of retail and business places offer dog treats to their customers.

The Episcopal Church here puts on an annual Blessing of the Animals service in the fall season during which pet owners can bring their pets before the clergy for a brief private moment. The clergy honor St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals, in their opening remarks and after visiting with each pet and owner, there is a general blessing for all the pets assembled “to go and be the best pet you can be.”

When asked what she thought of our practice of having well-behaved dogs at church, Marlys Hall noted, “I can’t imagine animals being excluded from worship in heaven. Bringing our dogs to church adds to the diversity and welcoming nature of our congregation.”

“If there are no dogs in Heaven, then when I die I want to go where they went.” —Will Rogers

Moose sits patiently during tea time.

Stanley waits for a crumb to fall on the floor during tea time.

Juli Miller is a business development consultant for the healthcare, hospitality, and aviation industries. A member of the Adventist Forum board, she is grateful to attend a church where one is greeted by wagging tails and friendly growls.

Main image: Lily and Koda listen attentively to the service. All photos courtesy of the author.

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/9745
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Of course there will be dogs in heaven. Cats have to go to purrcatory first, though.

I have a family member who split a church in half because an elderly dog owner needed a companion and assistant dog after medical complications. He made a stink over the stink of the dog and his unsubstantiated claim that the dog nosed his trousers from the rear. The dog was trained to pull socks on, fetch the mans keys and bible bag, and alert him to the door bell and phone.

After writing letters to the GC, the conference, and to some official media sources, the whole thing was dropped, and my family member left in a huff. A year later the church is still experiencing lowered membership…

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Fabulous…and heart-warming! Some congregations can open themselves up to new experiences and therefore it can positively impact more people.

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At St Francis on Sunday, one of the prarishoners brings her small dog to service
some times. Sits quietly in the pew.
We used to have a “parish cat”, but she always wanted to go to “church”. Her
problem was she wanted to “greet” everyone sitting in the pews. So had to
watch she didn’t slip in.
After about 4 years one of the members “adopted” her.
We leave dry cat food and have a bubbling water fountain for animals.
Have a number of neighbor’s cats that visit our grounds. Have seen a fox
in the evening. No deer, but there are deer in the residential neighborhood.
We have 4 old pecan trees, so have lots of squirrels and birds.

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And at certain Reformed congregations, there is the annual Bark Mitzvah! bark%20mitzvah

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I love to hear this! And, yes, I truly believe our loved furbabies will run to meet us on that blessed day!

I would like to specially mention the Port Alberni Adventist Church in Port Alberni on Vancouver Island, BC… when we first visited there our little dog was invited in from the hot car and given food and attention until she was absolutely boggle-eyed with surprise and joy. She was always made welcome there, along with other little dogs, and we are thinking back to about 12 years ago. Once when my husband gave the sermon she “got away” and ran up to join him on the platform… no gasps or anything disapproving and she just looked around, and mosied back to where I was sitting.

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And I am reminded of this interview article with the Adventist leader of the Party for the Animals which had 2 seats in the Dutch National Parliament back in 2008. https://spectrummagazine.org/article/interviews/2008/02/18/platform-compassion

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My wife and I have had a dog(s) for our entire marriage of 44 years. We now have our 4th Golden Retriever. However (you saw that coming - right) I am wearied of cell phones (are all those people looking up Bible texts) and dogs in church. Just as I am wearied of dog “remains” found in the hallways of airports. What is one to do (no, not do-do) if another person’s emotional support creature causes me anxiety?

get a bigger animal!

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We have a very small senior congregation and all dogs are welcome. It is comforting to have one of the doggy faces come from under the seat and “smile” at you, showing teeth and all! All our furry members are well behaved and are named in the Church Directory along with their ‘parents’. Our church is Willows SDA Church, Willows, CA. Not only are dogs welcome but visitors come from other Sunday churches on our Sabbath to hang out with us because we are so friendly. This is Mopsey Yankee, we call him our Guest Speaker

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This story heartens me. Thank you to the writer and staff for posting it.

I use a service dog, have done so since 2007 give or take…after bringing my service dog to church, I was told I was welcome to continue to attend, I was NOT to bring my dog back with me. I was Sabbath School superintendent, Women’s Ministries leader, Church Clerk, Primary/Junior Sabbath School teacher (we only had 1 child then) ran the pot luck, helped out in multiple ways…it didn’t matter.

I had some surgeries that messed with my system, my disabilities became more pronounced though invisible… I needed my service dog, trained to help regulate body temperature, to remind me to take mental and physical breaks…to help mitigate pain, and more things that I won’t elaborate on here…it didn’t matter. I was told - in effect - I wasn’t needed or wanted in this small church…it has now closed for lack of attendance, but the other two churches in the district have made similar policies. I have not had a church home since 2008.

I have pled with the district pastor. He feels those without dogs, those who feel it ‘destroys the sanctity of the sanctuary’ are more in number, more in need. He feels those with fear of dogs or allergies will leave if we were allowed to come. Their needs (salvation?) is more important…

I love the Lord! I am active in Prayer Ministries in our conference of Seventh-day Adventists. I worship on-line with a lively and loving congregation, though I have never met them, nor they me…but their media evangelism efforts bless me week by week. They have their whole service from opening song to children’s story and offerings to closing postlude on the Internet. Praise the Lord!

In any case, I am grateful for those who ‘allow’ service dogs and even pets into their family. Praise the Lord, let everything that has breath, praise the Lord!

Oh, and my service dogs are quieter in the church than most children, and as for those with allergies or fear, just let us know, we will stay away from you! My service dog is there for ME, not for the congregation anyway…Blessings to you!

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I have a bird feeder in my backyard, and lots of customers visit it daily. There is also a water container next to it that is filled up when the sprinklers go off twice a day. A few days ago we noticed the neighbor’s black cat sitting by the water, drinking some. I am wondering if it’s a dumb cat thinking that the birds will come for the water while he is there pretending to “just being around, stopped for a drink.” Those birds are not stupid!

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Perhaps they mistook, ostensibly due to biblical dyslexia, “fear of dog” for fear of God.
In other news, last I heard Jesus brought a donkey to church, and when there was a problem with birds at the church, he braided a cat-o-nine tales and the people left of their own accord. But his fury did not send the birds into flight…

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If “buddy” the service dog is barking up the tree of good and evil (or watering the tree of life)
it could get ruff…

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That was not a dumb cat, just a thirsty one. We have bird feeders and our cat lies below them and sleeps. She isn’t hungry just social! Oh yes, and she will be in heaven.

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Somehow this reminds me of the meme with a big picture of a tiger. At the top the tiger says “I love vegans.” At the bottom of the meme he says “I ate two of them for breakfast.”

Editors: Something is wrong with the edit function. It is recording the edits made before the 5 minute time period for edits expires. Or has there been a change?

LOL, i saw one where it said “I hate vegans, the’re too tough and bony…”

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Nice story, Juli. I’m sure that pets can help make connections between people. But, I’ve got to wonder what will happen when the lions lay down with Christians.

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I made a bet with my wife, I will never collect, that I could go sixty days as a vegan. So for the next month I will walk boldly with the lions and tigers and bears oh my knowing that I should be safe.

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Service dogs are extremely important not just for the individual they serve but also for others to be aware that the person with that dog might need assistance. The pastor or whoever was unhappy with your dog would be first in line to have one if they needed one.

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