for National Geographic News
At St. Francis Episcopal Church in Stamford, Connecticut, the pews are filled with some unlikely worshipers.
Dogs sit by their owners' sides and cats peer out from carriers during a monthly pet-friendly service.
Barks and purrs—or "prayer noises," as the church calls them—can be heard during the afternoon celebration of Eucharist, in which people receive communion and pets a special blessing.
The half-hour service focuses on the special relationships people have with their animals, says Rev. Mark Lingle.
"At our church there are a number of people who are single or who have lost a loved one, and their pet is one of their primary relationships," he said.
The church's special service is part of a growing movement among places of worship, some of which not only recognize the human-animal bond but offer pet owners support and services almost unheard of a decade ago.
In addition to special blessings or regular church services, these places hold private pet memorials or burials and offer grief counseling to comfort members whose pets have died.
Dealing With Loss
Rabbi Neil Comess-Daniels of Beth Shir Sholom, a progressive reform Jewish synagogue in Santa Monica, California, says that when a pet dies, owners suffer the same grief as they would over the loss of a human.
For years he's made condolence calls or visits with members of his congregation whose pets have died. And after each service he says a prayer for members mourning the loss of an animal or human.
(Related: "Photo Gallery: Pets, Hurricane Katrina's Other Victims" [September 2005].)
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