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Doghouse of God

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The idea of the church-going canine in not a new one. It is people's receptivity to the notion of dogs in pews that has done a complete turnabout.

The Gonzales (Texas) Inquirer, May 6, 1882 — After calm deliberation and mature judgment, we have reached the decided opinion that it does not improve the morals, and elevate the manners of dogs, to have them attend church, and we are positive that nothing is added to the comfort of the worshipers by their presence.

In fact, we believe that church-going dogs are the most depraved of the canine family. They generally consider it the time and place to show their (pugnacity) and animosity to the rest of the gang that have congregated there. They make themselves at home in a manner that is supremely exasperating to average mortality.

The manner in which one of the well-trained ones can march up the aisle and scornfully survey the rest of the congregation would make a Texas legislator almost weep for envy.

Fast-forward 127 years, and it seems the canine species is ready to assume its place in the pews of America. Ready and welcome.

Rachel Bickford is the pastor of Pilgrim Congregational Church in North Weymouth, Mass. While brainstorming ways to entice congregants to show up for Sunday services, she had an epiphany: Let them bring their dogs.

Her fellow pastors loved the idea.

Writing for Guideposts magazine, Bickford describes the year-old canine-friendly service as being "like our more formal one, but after worship we'd serve biscuits and toss tennis balls with our dogs in the side yard." Dog biscuits, that is.

They dubbed the special service Woof 'n Worship, and it's a hit.

As is Pee Wee the schnauzer. He brought the house down with his performance of "Amazing Grace" — howled only slightly off-key along with the church choir.

On the other side of the country, the first Canines at Covenant service took place on Sunday, Nov. 1. Rev. Tom Eggebeen is the pastor at Covenant Presbyterian Church in Los Angeles. His hair-brained concept: a doghouse of worship with the works, including doggie beds, doggie prayers and, of course, doggie biscuits.

In an interview with MSNBC, Eggebeen said, "The Bible says of God only two things in terms of an 'is': that God is light and God is love. And wherever there's love, there's God in some fashion. And when we love a dog and a dog loves us, that's a part of God and God is a part of that. So we honor that."

Laura Hobgood-Oster, a religion professor at Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas, told MSNBC, "More and more people in mainline Christianity are considering (dogs) to have some kind of soul."

I'll leave the discussion of souls and God to the pros, but I will say this: The healing power of dogs is witnessed every day around the world — in nursing homes, in hospitals, in prisons, on the battlefield and in the private homes and lives of everyday people, religious or not. After all, DOG and GOD have much more in common than the letters that represent them.

Weep your eyes out, legislators.

Woof!

Dog trainer Matthew "Uncle Matty" Margolis is co-author of 18 books about dogs, a behaviorist, a popular radio and television guest, and host of the PBS series "WOOF! It's a Dog's Life!" Read all of Uncle Matty's columns at the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com, and visit him at www.unclematty.com. Send your questions to dearuncle.gazette@unclematty.com or by mail to Uncle Matty at P.O. Box 3300, Diamond Springs, CA 95619.

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