AS far as church congregations go, this wasn’t exactly the usual flock.
Yesterday more than 50 animals from across the country packed the pews of Greyfriars Kirk for a barking mad pet blessing ceremony.
A menagerie of cats and dogs crowded into the historic 17th century church for the unusual afternoon service – with shaggy-coated Skye Terriers vastly outnumbering any other species.
The kirk has long held a special place in the hearts of animal lovers – and in particular Skye terrier owners – due to the story of Greyfriars Bobby, the loyal pooch who kept watch over his master’s grave in the churchyard for 14 years until his own death in 1872.
For fans of the rare breed Bobby belonged to, the Greyfriars pet blessing ceremony – now in its third year – has become something of a pilgrimage.
Skye Terrier owner Louise Lynch had travelled up from Knaresborough in North Yorkshire with her partner Peter McKenzie especially to attend the service.
The 52-year-old, who had brought along pooches Oscar, 12, Florence, nine, and Lucy, one, said they were expecting at least 20 other examples of the breed to make an appearance.
“They are very opinionated dogs and have lots of character – very loyal and great fun to be with,” she said. “Greyfriars Bobby was very loyal to his master and they are very much like that.”
Elsewhere, Cathie McLeod, secretary of the Skye Terrier Club, had made the journey down from Kintore, near Aberdeen, with her husband George for the occasion.
“This is our third year,” the 58-year-old said. “The service is about celebrating the connection between people and their pets.”
Friend Jenny Kendrick, 62, added: “It’s a bit Vicar of Dibley-ish, but it’s quite moving actually.”
Yesterday’s service saw a selection of hymns including All Things Bright and Beautiful – chosen for the line “all creatures great and small” – as well as readings and prayers, and was conducted by Lezley Stewart, associate minister.
But while Skye Terriers and other dogs were by far the most common animal to find taking up a pew, they weren’t the only pets in attendance – with some disgruntled-looking cats also coming along to receive their blessing.
Emma McMillan had travelled from Leith with her two Siamese cats Coco and Yum Yum in tow – packed safely in their cages to keep them away from the shaggy dogs around them.
The 38-year-old jewellery consultant said her pets were “really important” to her, with yesterday’s service offering a “wonderful” chance for the moggies to share in worship.
“They’re rescue cats – I’ve had them since they were one and a half and they are ten now. I saw this service on Facebook and I was so delighted as I go to Greenside Church regularly and I’ve often thought, ‘I wish I could take them in’.”
Rev Dr Richard Frazer, the Greyfriars minister who conducted Scotland’s first pet blessing at the church in 2013, said the event was growing in popularity every year.
He said: “It is a bit of fun. It emphasises the kinship between pets and their families and we have people coming who are not necessarily parishioners because of the story of Greyfriars Bobby.”