When people experience the loss of a family member, they gather for a funeral. But what about when that family member is a beloved dog or cat? In 2010, we visited a church that honors that loss also.
(Locator: Bethel Park, Pennsylvania)
Every beast of the earth is welcome;those with two legs, four or even those with claws. The annual "blessing of the pets" at Christ United Methodist Church in Bethel Park, Pennsylvania draws crowds
Joe Hirsch: "Father we're asking that this cat have a good, long happy life."
"Franz" the cat belongs to Rie and Eric Lauver.
Eric and Rie Lauver, Pet Owners: "I remember seeing the pamphlet in the welcome center on the way in the first Sunday we were here and I was like, 'Hon, they have a pet ministry! We have to come here!'"
Leslie Denton and dog "Theodore": "I think it's just wonderful (laughs). He's had a wonderful experience today and we'll sleep better tonight knowing that he's been blessed."
The "Hearts and Paws" ministry is committed to people and their pets year-round. It started as a pet-sitting service for church members in an emergency and blossomed into training for pet therapy animals, adoption fairs, free pet food, a prayer hotline, and pet memorial services.
Joe Hirsch, Hearts and Paws Ministry: "We bring people to the church because they say to us, 'If you are going to take care of my pets, you surely will take care of me.'"
The ministry reaches out through local veterinarian offices to comfort owners when a pet dies or gets sick.
Sylvia Bowen, Pet Owner: "They're my children. These are my children."
Dr. Carolyn Brown says the pet memorial service is unique and important.
Dr. Carolyn Brown, Veterinarian: "There's definitely some of those owners that come in that they need more closure, they need to talk about it."
Joe Hirsch: "The pets are in Your arms."
At the monthly service, pet owners bring in photos or ashes of their deceased pets. Here they can grieve and seek comfort.
Judy Dixon, Pet Owner: "It just makes you feel peaceful. It makes you feel hopeful. It validates the life of your pet and your feelings."
Eric and Rie Lauver: "'Your pets are going to be waiting for you when you go to heaven. When you cross the bridge, every pet you have is going to come maul you over.' I know I'm going to have lots of kitties coming after me."
Hearts and Paws is touching people by caring for their animals.
Eric and Rie Lauver: "Pets just make everything seem a little bit more happy."
The Hearts and Paws ministry at Christ United Methodist Church also runs a pet food pantry and provides temporary care for pets for owners during times of crisis. You can call the Hearts and Paws Hotline at 412-277-1096.
This video was first posted on Oct. 20, 2010.