Every once in awhile I would be running late from one appointment or another and would bring my dog to church. Some folks were OK with it while others were very uncomfortable with the idea of having a dog in church. I think that there’s a huge pastoral opportunity for someone who would consider doing a Sunday afternoon “Pet Mass.” People could come to mass with their pet, especially older people who have grown attached to their companions and hate to leave them alone, or people who have pets with separation anxiety and who haven’t quite worked through it yet (the way my dog was for awhile).

Many people have fears about dogs making a mess in sacred space and that’s a legitimate fear with an easy solution. You have all owners sign a waiver that requires them to clean up any mess that their dog or other animal might make or they lose the privilege of having a dog accompany them. Dog fighting? Same thing holds. Dog barking…well…we put up with babies crying without much huffiness. But maybe at the Pet mass they have to go to the “bark room.”

I understand that not everybody is as animal friendly as I am. Dogs can be scary for some people and cats frighten people as well. Is it appropriate for people to bring an animal to mass when that’s not the norm? Obviously, therapy dogs are an exception but my friend Felicity had a quiet dog that sat on her lap all through mass and never uttered a peep for years. I think if they are quiet and unassuming and don’t disturb anyone else, there’s no harm in it, especially for small dogs who can remain quiet and on the laps of owners. Big dogs would be a harder sell.

BustedHalo® has a great story about a therapy pet who visits nursing homes and would go to weekday mass with her pal:

“Hey, lady-with-the-dog, what’s your dog’s name again? Lily?” asks one resident. “My great-niece is Penny — do you know her? She says she knows you because she sees you and Lily in church. I said she was mistaken; who would take a dog to church? Do you know Penny?”

“I do know Penny. Small world, isn’t it?”

“Now, why would Penny see your dog at church?”

I explain how Lily enjoys going to Mass with me.

“Well, that’s a new one on me,” she exclaims. “Penny’s Catholic, you know. I’m an Independent Baptist, and we don’t do that sort of thing.” I explain the details, and with that, Penny’s great aunt Della is off and running down the hall with the story.

“Maudie Lane, come here. I’m going to tell you such a story; you won’t believe this. You know that dog that visits us? Lily is her name. She goes to church in the Catholic church. Well, that’s not something we’d do, but that dog goes to church every single day. Can you believe that? She got trained there, the lady said.”

Maudie retells this story to the nurse’s aide: “Yes, that’s right. That dog goes to church every single day at the Catholic Cathedral. Why, she was even born at the church. Yes, as just a little puppy they say, isn’t that something? I guess she must live there.”

Now she wouldn’t go to mass on Sunday with her owner which probably means that she’s be less unassuming during that time. Too many people and it may cause an unneccessary distraction.

This weekend is the blessing of the animals often associated with the feast of St Francis. So we have a more formal opportunity to bring our pets to church or to an outdoor venue (as my parish does) for a blessing. So as we bless all of creation including “brother dog and sister cat”, as Francis would say let us be reminded of the great companions that they are for us.

0 thoughts on “A Dog?… In Church?”
  1. Via Facebook:

    From David Dawson:

    Mike, while I love dogs dearly, mass is not the place for them. The whole focus of mass is to worship God. Bringing animals pulls the attention away from God and on them or the person bringing the animal. I am sure your sentence about putting up with crying babies was tongue in cheek in comparison to barking, so I will not even touch it. I just spent several minutes looking for a statement I read a while back. I cannot remember if it was from the Congregation of the Doctrine of Faith or Canon law, etc…but it stated that nothing is to be done in mass that would distract people from their worship of God. I think this would be a huge distraction.

  2. So we should keep babies out too? And rude people who talk? And people who smell bad? Cmon!

    I'm also saying this would be a special mass where people would EXPECT dogs to be there and then they would not be a distraction. The distraction for the pet owners would be the worry of leaving their pet at home who is anxious.

    And it really isn't tongue in cheek. My dog is quieter than nearly all of the babies in most parishes but yet he's not welcome in most places. And he's not a distraction to anyone–including me. He sits on my lap and doesn't make a sound.

  3. I remember the summer morning I stepped up to the ambo to cantor the psalm. The noise behind me sounded for all the world like an overheated dog panting. When I finished and stepped down – I spotted in the shadows behind a column a black Lab lying on the cool marble floor! A blind parishioner's guide dog (the cream of well-behaved canine-dom) was cooling off while her mistress waited to lector (Braille lectionary!).

  4. Via Facebook:

    From Mary Sperry:

    At my old parish in California, a woman brought her seeing eye dog to Mass evry day at 8 a.m. Baby slept on the floor at her mom's feet until it was time to lead her to communion. She was far better behaved than most humans. We used to joke that we should formally register her in the parish since she attended Mass more frequently than 95% of the human parishioners. Baby never bothered a soul. On the other hand, my current dog would be a nightmare. She just wouldn't understand why she can't jump on Father's lap and give him a kiss.

  5. Via Facebook:

    From Ed Karasinski:

    Hmm – our church, Elizabeth Ann Seton, Shrub Oak NY, is having an animal blessing on Saturday… outside per the flyer…

  6. Via Facebook:

    From David Dawson:

    An anxious pet???? Hahahaha! What is that? Go get it a shrink.
    When it comes to animals….There has to be a line drawn somewhere, Mike.

  7. David–anxiety in dogs is actually a very serious problem. They get taken away from their mother too early and don't get enough of the pheromone they need from her and therefore don't like to be alone. There are several solutions to the problem but they all take some time. It took a good year for my dog to not be in distress when I left him alone. They sell a synthetic version of the pheromone which we sprayed in the house and the dog calmed down significantly.

    I do find it insulting that you think a serious medical problem with one of God's creatures is something to laugh at.

    And another thing…

    By your logic you have just contradicted yourself. You said that the focus of mass is to worship God. So therefore ANYTHING that is distracting would be bad. That goes beyond animals attending I would think.

    My point is that this should be a case by case basis. I know several small dogs that would be less of a distraction than most babies or the occasional disruptive person would be. If the dog wasn't a distraction–then what's the problem? By using your own logical example?

  8. Via Facebook:

    From: David Dawson

    First off, I find it insulting that you place the "anxiety" of a dog over that of a person in mass. Secondly, again you put words in where I did not place them. You emphasized ANYTHING. As I recall, that was not a word I used. Also, as I recall, I quoted the magesterium of the Church.

    Obviously, we disagree on this issue, which is fine. I believe your opinion is in the minority of Catholics, but it takes us ALL to make up the Universal church. And you can quote me on that.

  9. David…Let's agree to disagree since I value your friendship. However, I'm not placing the anxiety of a dog over a human's. If a human was anxious about sitting next to my dog, I'd move or not bring him if it were a problem. My point is that if the dog is not a problem, distracts nobody, doesn't bark, etc. then he's not a problem. Yet, folks will say he is a problem–which I think is mean to both owner and dog.

    But obviously we disagree. Apologies for being na

  10. Via Facebook:

    From David Dawson:

    No anger hear, Mike. I like a good debate. It allows us to understand others and their opinions. I too value your friendship and think you do great work. I am taking a poll on my profile to see what others think. It is an I teresti g idea you have put forth.

  11. Via Facebook:

    From Lois Rose:

    We went to mass in a Florida church last year where the priest's dog came in and processed out with him at the end of mass, carrying a missal in his mouth.

  12. Via Facebook:

    From Dan Barriball

    No, I don't see a problem with it, particularly if the dog is a service animal.

  13. Via Facebook:

    From Cathy Connelly:

    I don't think I've ever seen dogs at mass. Sounds like fun. No problems here.
    p.s. heard you guys don't move for a couple more weeks, are you guys going to Jersey to see my friend Bruce in concert?

  14. Via Facebook:

    From Rachel Bundang

    francis, schmancis… a blessing of the animals outside of regular liturgy is fine. but i'll be cranky here and say that– glories of creation aside– until dogs are declared eligible for baptism (or any other sacrament), they really shouldn't be at Mass. exceptions for legitimate service dogs, of course. plus what about folks who have allergies to or phobias of other people's pets?

  15. Rach–I think I'm talking about quiet dogs who aren't disturbances. People would realize that having their dog with them is a privilege and maybe even sign a waiver.

    I think someone should do a 3PM Sunday "Pet Mass" and I think they'd garner a HUGE attendance.

    A friend once said to me that he could have a lock on the second coming and if I did something across the street with animals __I'd still get more people.

  16. From Facebook:

    From Shannon Baldridge

    I have 2 blind aunts and have attended Mass with them and they brought their seeing eye dogs. There weren't any problems. The dogs were very well-behaved as they are trained to be and nobody seemed offended by them (then again, they are service animals, not pets, so we may have gotten different reactions had they been pets). I don't see a problem with it! 🙂

  17. Via Facebook:

    From Anastasia Hunt:

    I say a pet-friendly Mass should be an option. Pets bring a wonderful energy to an environment, and I'd like to attend a Mass where they're welcome. (Then again my birthday is on the feast of St. Francis so this may explain my affinity for animals.)

  18. Anastasia–Agreed! And happy upcoming birthday!

    My opinion is at normal masses if the animal is not distracting or disturbing then it's OK. I would go as far to say we should have the same rules for crying babies!

    But I think that a "pet mass" would be well attended and would be a nice way to be sensitive to the needs of pet owners who can't leave their pets alone–or who don't want to.

  19. Not at all Dr. Bundang,

    I think NYC would be a great place for this. And look at the number of people from all denominations that St John the Divine gets for their Blessing of the Animals.

    Buffalo may be too–as they are an extremely dog-friendly town. My pastor has two English Sheepdogs!

  20. Via Facebook:

    From Crissy Bowen:

    Nope. My lab would love to come. He is welcome at the Quaker Meeting that I also attend. 🙂 It is tough for those who are allergic or scared… and may distract though if everyone is coming regularly… and to the same Mass (has an appropriate nondistracting place, like in the front where no one sits, lol) it could work.

  21. as a youth pastor myself, I would love to bring my dog to church… just sit in my office and chew a bone while I work on a talk for youth group that night. He's a good listener too for that odd counseling session. He would be good for me too health wise and force me to go for short walks and get some fresh air. Anyway, I am considering that the next church I am at must allow me to bring my dog into my office each day.

    by the way, have you seen this?
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H17edn_RZoY

  22. Via Facebook

    From Linda Ruiz

    my dogs say cruel eeevvviill,

    that is a great idea mike. attendance would be up. having a pet business, i know lots of people would bring their babies. quiet dogs, in a bag or a basket so people wont complain should be fine. screaming babies should not be allowed to stay at mass.

  23. Linda–

    I disagree about the crying babies. They should be music to our ears actually considering how many babies are lost each day. But I do think their parents should be considerate and bring them to a place where they can not disturb the rest of the congregations prayer–like a cry room or vestibule.

  24. Via Facebook:

    From: Susan Magan Karpovich

    I once attended mass for a while at a parish where the pastor had a dog that curled up on the floor near the front pew for every mass. It took a little getting used to but after a while it became the norm. It would definitely depend on the particular dog.

    But, when my son and some friends visited our home Father B. wanted to say mass @ the house and I felt strange having the dog walking around during mass. I ended up putting him in his crate but that just caused him to bark through mass!

    Though I wonder how well behaved any dog would be if there were a church full of them…?"

  25. Susan makes a good point about dog's behavior around a bunch of other dogs.

    I think I'm talking about two things here:

    1) The appropriateness of having someone with a well behaved, small dog, who is not a distraction to other mass-attenders having a dog at mass. (E.g. Person sits apart from others so the dog isn't seen by anyone who doesn't make an effort to really seek that person out. Dog doesn't bark. Dog doesn't mess the church up.)

    And 2) The appropriateness of a community of dog owners agreeing to have their dogs with them as a group at a special mass for said dog-owning community (or even pet owning community), which I would contend is worth someone experimenting with.

  26. Via Facebook:

    From: Andrea Musante Parker

    We have a regularly attending parishioner who happens to be in a wheel chair who brings her service dog with her. this golden retriever is muzzled and wears a vest that says something like: "I'm a service dog. Please don't pet me." But she is the gentlest companion. We all love to see her, but more importantly, we love to see the parishioner who would not be able to attend without her dog.

  27. Via Facebook:

    From: David Frydrychowski

    I'm of two minds on this. In general, absolutely not. But some of these midwestern airtight boxes next to the side of a road could use some fauna, if only to encourage the cracking open of a window or two, to take a phrase from Vatican II.

  28. Via Facebook

    From Butler Miller:

    I think of allergic people even coming at a later service. If dogs were to become a regular thing, there is just no way to get the 'dog' out of the church, probably true if there were a dog section as well. That would be too bad. I come down in the 'only in special circumstances' column.

  29. Via Facebook:

    From Lois Rose

    I think this is something that should be discussed with the parish, not just general opinion. The people who attend the masses need to weigh in on whether they have a problem with well-behaved dogs being allowed at a mass.

  30. Via Facebook

    From Caitlin Czeh

    The priest at my home parish when I was in HS had a pet dog, a collie named Jake. Jake came to daily mass everyday, he would lay down at the back of the sanctuary during mass, and wouldn't move until it was over and Fr. was done shaking hands.And then into the office with Fr. Carr. Jake was wonderful with the kids of the parish as well, and some of the stay at home moms would come everyday with their kids,just so that they could see Jake. Our older population really liked him too. I say, bring your dog to mass 🙂

  31. Via Facebook

    From Joe Squillace:

    "Boy do I miss the east coast – dogs in church. Maybe Butler's experience is different, but we got US flags, you can carry guns to church, we're still kneeling all the time, and lots of beer and cigarettes at children's parish sports events. I'll take the dogs."

  32. Seems like the proverbial “tempest in the teapot.” I never considered it an issue really. In Ireland a retired Army officer brought his
    spaniel to daily Mass. It sat by his side and when he went to Communion watched carefully. To my knowledge no one every made a comment
    other than “isn’t he lovely?” I have also seen dogs at Mass in Italy and France with no commotion from either the dogs or the humans.

    This discussion reflects. I think, the organization of our society into separate boxes. “Animals here, people there.” Animals are “dirty”. So,
    they don’t go into restaurants, stores,….churches. Switzerland which is legendary for cleanliness admits dogs into restaurants. Are Swiss
    patrons disturbed by their presence or disgusted by their “dirtiness?”

    Just a thought.

  33. I love my dogs and what better to worship the love of God with a animal of God that never judges you and has unconditional love just like God. If there was a service availible once a week I would attend with one of my dogs. that would be 52 more times a year than I attend now.

    Thank you,
    From Born, Raised and Schooled Catholic.

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