Man’s best friend

The question of whether animals have souls (and thus, whether any of our furry friends will be joining us in heaven) is one that has perplexed Christians across the years. A quick google of ‘do animals go to heaven’ will take you to a whole host of sites exploring Biblical texts and theological arguments, so I won’t bother to do that here.

What is clear in the nation of animal lovers that Britain is, animals are no strangers to the church. Church cats are fairly common (as are the rodents they’re supposed to remove); pet blessing services are not uncommon – particularly in rural areas; a central London church conducts an annual ‘blessing of the horses’ service; and livestock can (and often is) used augment the liturgical seasons.

There are horror stories, of course. Like the tale of the donkey employed by a parish to bring a touch of reality to Palm Sunday. Unfortunately, it gave up the ghost in the church’s vestibule – before it had completed its starring role in the re-telling of Jesus’ entry to Jerusalem. Apparently, it’s quite difficult to move a dead donkey, and even harder when small children are crying and demanding to know why they can’t have a ride on it.

Then there are the animals that turn up simply because their owners have chosen to bring them. Yesterday, on my second Sunday of church visiting, I spotted two canine members of the congregation…

Both were of the ‘very small and slightly pointless’ genre. One was a rather attractive tiny Daschund (in my opinion not quite so pointless, as it’s not the kind of dog you’d carry around in a handbag, plus, it literally resembles a mini ‘proper’ dog). The other was an utter fur-ball (one could even say overgrown squirrel), (probably a Pomeranian) that wouldn’t look out of place in a designer handbag belonging to Paris Hilton.

Fur-ball was across the aisle and a couple of rows up from me, so I had an excellent view of him all through the service. [I know it was a he because I overheard the owner talking about him after the service.] The owner’s child took him outside at frequent intervals and most of the rest of the time it sat in the aisle, adjacent to the pew. There, it spent a great deal of time staring at me, which was just slightly disconcerting.

It was also on a retractable lead – meaning that (in theory) it could easily be retrieved if it wandered off. At one point it did just that, sauntering across the aisle to the pew opposite, trailing its lead across the width of the aisle, creating a near-invisible trip hazard just before the collection was taken up. Sadly, for lovers of comedy falls, a steward swiftly asked the owner to retract the lead, but it didn’t stop me imagining potential calamities throughout the prayers.

Fur-ball also went up for communion. I’m not sure if he received a blessing or any of the elements, doctrinally I believe either would be controversial. Truly, this is inclusivity at its most extreme.

The service wasn’t a long one, dogs are usually quite happy with a bit of peace and quiet, so why the need to bring them to church? I believe ours quite happily settles down in a patch of sun, listening to the Archers omnibus on Radio 4 while my parents head off to church. Each to their own, I suppose.

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