One house of worship in the Garden State is going to the dogs — literally!

A Monmouth County church is inviting parishioners to bring their canines, cats and canaries to special pet-friendly services.

“We want everyone to feel that church is relevant and a place of welcome and a place of hospitality," said the Rev. Ophelia Laughlin of St. George's-by-the-River Episcopal Church in Rumson. "We recognize that pets are every bit as much a part of people’s families as are the human members.”

She explained the idea started after the blessing of the animals in honor of St. Francis of Assisi in October.

“That service was so popular we decided we would try to offer a monthly service,” she said.

Courtesy Taylor McFarland

The reverend says most of the pets that show up are dogs, “but we have had cats, we’ve had hermit crabs, we’ve had hamsters, and we often have a local parrot.”

She notes Zinnie the parrot comes to most, but not all, Saturday services.

She says the sermons are shorter than usual and interwoven with one of the designated scripture readings of the week.

Courtesy Taylor McFarland

Laughlin says when there are dogs and cats attending the service along with their owner, “you can speak more easily to the beauty and generosity of god and the creativity of god.”

Accordingly, her sermon will frequently touch upon “the unconditional love of God that people experience through their animals and the joy of giving that kind of love back [...] themes of unconditional love and helping others and nature and the beauty of the Earth.”

Courtesy Taylor McFarland

Laughlin says while many churches do the blessing of the animals for St. Francis of Assisi in October, she believes her church is the only one with an ongoing service for animals every month.

A few weeks ago there were about a hundred people and 22 dogs attending the service.

Most of the time the animals are very well behaved but when one woman stood up wearing a funny red hat, “the dogs that were seated in the front pew became alarmed and started to bark, and that sent them all off and they didn’t stop until she took the hat off again.”

The pet-friendly services are offered from September through May on the second Saturday of every month at 5 p.m.

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You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com