Dogs In Church: A Good Idea?

stained glass

stained glass


A while back, an acquaintance asked if I’d seen a dog at Mass recently.  Apparently, she had seen, during Sunday Mass, a lady carrying a small dog with her in a bag when she went up to receive Communion. Now in the interest of full disclosure here, I have to tell you that I’ve always been a fan of dogs, having been trained and owned by several of them over the years, including our currently reigning monarch, a Yorkie-Poo mix named “Joy.” Thinking about this situation, though, raised some questions about what an apparent lapdog would be doing in church, whether it was a real service dog or simply a pet, and what the policies of the Church might be regarding dogs in Mass.

Many of us probably have seen service dogs in public places, including at Mass. At a parish where we lived previously, one family trained dogs to become service dogs and we would see them every weekend with a well-behaved golden retriever or two in Mass. From my family’s perspective, the dogs were not the source of any distraction, nor of any disruptions, during the liturgy. Just the other day, I saw what appeared to be a guide dog in our local parish—again, a well-behaved dog with its master, in a pew near the back of the church.

Standards Among Dioceses?

In checking with a few dioceses in the United States, I have found that there are no hard and fast rules regarding this matter—as with most organizations, they all attempt to follow the applicable laws regarding access for trained service dogs. Many don’t have a specific diocesan policy dealing with service dogs, so it generally is left up to the pastor’s discretion on a case by case basis. In checking with a couple of dioceses in the UK and Australia, I found similar positions being taken.

One priest here in Colorado told me he personally had not run into any problems with this issue and is familiar with one veteran of the armed forces who brings a dog to Mass with him that apparently was prescribed for him due to his PTSD condition. That same pastor had heard of a case where another priest suspected something funny going on when a bride insisted on bringing a dog to her wedding at his church but was somewhat ambiguous about what services the had been trained to provide.

Unfortunately, there is no easy way to tell at a glance whether a dog truly is trained as a real service dog, or if the dog is just a companion dog, (that is, a “pet,” in other words).  Merely putting a vest on Woofy or Fluffy does not make him or her a service dog. A “service dog,” according to the Americans with Disabilities Act, is “…any guide dog, signal dog, or other animal individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including, but not limited to, guiding individuals with impaired vision, alerting individuals with impaired hearing to intruders or sounds, providing minimal protection or rescue work, pulling a wheelchair, or fetching dropped items…”

Service dogs are trained to do some specific tasks that benefit their disabled owners. “Psychiatric service” dogs have been trained to perform real tasks for owners—not parlor tricks.  On the other hand, an “emotional support” dog is one which provides comfort or emotional support for the owner by virtue of its presence, but not because it is trained to do some specific task. The dog may be considered very valuable for and by its owner, but a service dog it is not. There is probably no denying the fact that a loyal canine friend can provide us with lots of emotional comfort. nonjudgmental companionship, and some version of what appears to be unconditional love. Old Ruff or little Minnie will be there, awaiting our return home with a doggy smile and a wagging tail, but—no matter how much comfort they give us—unless they are trained specifically to help us function more effectively around some validly diagnosed disability, they are not service dogs.

The actual, correct classification of that furry little friend with whom one might wish to share the liturgy should make a very real difference as to its admissibility. Clearly, if a person has gone to the effort to train or have trained for them a qualified service dog that helps with specific tasks or functions due to some disability of that person, it would seem that the dog should be allowed in most public places with its owner, including at Mass. This, of course, presumes that the dog is trained adequately and will be well-behaved in that environment.

On the other hand, some people are allergic to pet dander. Even a well-behaved, highly trained canine may cause them from mild to more extreme levels of discomfort. Yet there should be some possible solution that would allow both the person who needs the service dog and the person who is allergic to it to both partake of the liturgy of the Mass. Perhaps service dogs and their owners might have a separate area reserved for them, with signage indicating that is the case in order to allow anyone who has a problem with dogs to sit elsewhere. For that matter, many breeds are what is known as hypoallergenic, or relatively less likely to cause allergic reactions. This category includes Poodles, Maltese, Bichon Frise, Labradoodles, Schnauzers and various terrier breeds.  Although not totally eliminating allergy problems, they might minimize them somewhat.

Concerns About Dogs In Church

A very real concern about having animals of any kind in church, particularly during the Mass, is the potential distraction to the faithful during their time of worship. We already face many distractions, from the noisy neighbors kibitzing in the pew behind us, to the inappropriately dressed young persons in the pew in front of us.  Having a poorly behaved animal, particularly a pet that is not a service dog, in Mass just cannot lead to any good, even for the owner of the animal. Considering that most people who attend Mass on Sundays probably only make it to Mass that one day of the week, do we really want to take the chance of creating a suboptimal worship experience for those around us?

That doesn’t seem to be the underlying reason God made these creatures and gave us dominion over them, does it?  Nor does having a priest bring his pet with him when he celebrates Mass. In one reported case a priest was in the habit of bringing his pet dog with him to the early morning, weekday Mass he celebrated.  Many parishioners thought it was fine to have a pet wandering around in the sanctuary, with his dog tags jingling during the proclamation of the Gospel. Based on information from one of the parishioners, this apparently was not a service dog, but a pet.  However, in another example, the priest brought a service dog with him when he celebrated Mass because the priest was a diabetic.  The dog could detect when his owner’s blood sugar was getting low and alert the priest to address it on the spot.

The bottom line here is that looks can be deceiving.  It can be difficult to tell if a dog truly is a service dog or just a pet. For those of us who observe unobtrusive dogs at Mass, adopting a nonjudgmental attitude, and staying focused on Our Lord during the celebration probably is the preferred approach for us to take. For those of us with dogs at home, it should go without saying that, unless the dog is a real service dog, Fido needs to stay at home during Mass so we can focus on Our Lord during that brief time together with Him. Even if we attend Mass every day, it only amounts to about an hour a day that we are separated from Spunky or Gilda—that’s not too much to ask, is it?


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14 thoughts on “Dogs In Church: A Good Idea?”

  1. Dan, u might want to educate yourself before you run your mouth. The answer is NO not all disabled people can have another person accompany them to church. The are many who have disabilities that are not always seen. There are service animals who are trained to detect dangerous sugar levels, high blood pressure, seizures and the list goes on. Whatever happened to living a compassionate life for others?

  2. Recently I had to attend a funeral out of town at a Catholic parish. When I arrived early with my service dog I was almost immediately told I could not have her there. I informed them that she was a service dog & they told me I would have to remain in the back of the church. I was a bit offended but complied, after all this wasnt about me or my dog, it was a funeral. I was very much made to feel like I was in trouble. So I waited for an appropriate moment so I could slipped out to use the restroom without disrupting. I no sooner found the restroom when a woman comes in and while I’m sitting there she yells me I cant have my dog there & that they have signs posted. I told her, shes a service dog. She then asked if I had proof, I said yes, washed my hands and tried to find her card. However, bcuz of the travel I had mistakenly left it in the car. It was not sufficient to take my world or even wait till after the funeral, she had me get it right then & she followed me 2 my car. I then realized my husband had the key so she followed my back to the church & again to the car. She was extremely intrusive & in my opinion out of line considering none of the 35ish other people at the mass didnt have a problem at all. The story gets worse when after providing the proof she tells me I still cant have her there & that there ” were signs” about it. I never saw the signs, of course I was at a funeral & didnt realize the churches were exempt from treating disabled people with respect. All dogs may go to heaven but God forbid the attend a funeral. FYI the situation triggered my disability issues & caused me to not only miss the mass but cause me some serious health issues. My husband is Catholic but after what happened you can be sure that I will never step into a catholic church again because I wouldnt risk the possibility of another nightmare like that. I have never had an issues with my church showing compassion & my service dog was warmly welcomed at both of my sons funerals.

    1. Isabella van der Linden

      Ivy, I am so sorry you had to put up with that rude woman and were made to feel like you where doing something wrong. You weren’t at all. I am a Catholic and my friend trains guide dog pups and takes them to Church regularly and hasn’t come across any negativity. I am really sorry for the way in which you where treated.
      I was just reading the comments and was discusted in the way the woman acted and hope you feel like you can come to a Catholic Church again, but understand if you didn’t want to due to bad experiences.

  3. I just stumbled upon this thread and I, quite frankly, am STUNNED. As a Roman Catholic all my life, a CCD teacher, Eucharistic Minister, and (what I would like to believe) a goo person, I try to follow the teachings of Christ. He is the ONLY one worthy to judge us at any time. HE gave us free will and we will falter from time to time. I am human and not without sin…so I choose not to throw that stone because I know I am not perfect and NOT ALL disabilities are visible.

    A human assistant is not always the best ‘assistive device’ (wheelchair, walker, cane, service dog). Many young adults, teens, and adults alike want to be independent. As those without disabilities have the ability to simply walk out and be alone at any time, many that choose to have a service dog do so BECAUSE he or she specifically does not wish to ask for help to accomplish day-to-day tasks…want to ‘bother’ others…or even…want alone time…

    Do you want another person constantly with you 100% of the day? Don’t answer that here, simply prayerfully reflect on that and consider a person that may wish to attend confession, mass, or even a walk to and from alone to meditate on the homily that week. We may consider inclusion and selflessness, rather than exclusion and selfishness.

    What other people do is not within our control, but how we choose to react to it is. Let’s try to remind each other that we do not possess faith or religion during mass, but everyday.

  4. I witnessed a Eucharistic Minister with an emotional support animal in attendance on the altar and had been given a Eucharistic minister assignment to distribute precious blood. I felt terrible for the congregation that was distracted by this site. It was something new and oh my god. . .

  5. So rightly said Adrian Johnson..i just had this incident in my Parish today!! My dog (Oreo) accompanied me for mass and a parishner came and kicked him.. I dont understand what Christian values some people have when they can’t tolerate another Gods creature.. Some stupid sites mention that animals do not have a soul!! And i am appauled by such nonsense findings by us Christians.. I cannot figure our who went up to check all these details!!! Manmade religion sucks :(..

  6. I would prefer to avoid churches with animals present during the Holy Mass. Our dog can easily survive an hour at home or in the car. I feel it that bringing a dog to mass is somewhat disrespectful to others and the House of God.

    1. It sounds like you have not had the misfortune of serious illness and debility. My service dog brought me out of the depths of hell. I cannot tolerate medications and this dog was the perfect answer.

  7. Dogs at Mass, noisy children at Mass, screaming babies at Mass, women in shorts at Mass..
    Sure, why not ?
    Anything that disrespects the Mass and the people who are trying to concentrate on it is welcome in the new world order.

    1. I have no idea what new word order you could possibly be talking about, because I’ve never heard of one where those things are condoned.
      Pet dogs, definitely leave at home (that includes emotional support animals, for anyone who doesn’t know). As for service animals in Mass, I deign you to read this:
      You wouldn’t make someone in a wheelchair, or with a cane, or on crutches, or on oxygen, leave any of those things behind when going to Mass, so you ought not exclude service animals – in the U.S., they are legally classified as medical equipment, which is why they’re allowed where pets are not.

    2. Really M? you’re gonna make up those excuses for people to bring in a dog to mass? an animal?

      No one can help the disable come without the dog? They can’t organize with their parish their priests, their friends, their family, oh right but they were able to get a trained dog and able to get up and go to church with that dog.

      Sad and pathetic excuses of modernism.

  8. I have attended a country parish church at Christmastide in the UK where the priest’s cat was curled up asleep for the whole of Mass in the the hay of the large nativity scene beneath the altar– next to Baby Jesus.
    The parish was used to the church cat, and said it was never a distraction, though it liked follow the priest processing up the main aisle, and to be near the altar quietly during Sunday Mass.

  9. I’ve attended mass where parents have let their children make noise, throw things, hit people, etc. & I survived. Having a well-behaved pet or service dog come to mass is fine with me.

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