God's creatures to the fore(paw) as Belfast cathedral hosts Pets' Service
There were paws in the pews yesterday as St Anne's Cathedral in Belfast celebrated its second annual Pets' Service.
Around 100 animal lovers attended with their fluffy friends, with even the choirmaster and church organist keeping their dogs beside them.
Ruby 'the wonder dog', as she's known on Instagram, was attending for the first time with owners Clayre Thompson (41) and Johnny Graham (40) from Stormont.
Clayre is recovering from breast cancer and said her faithful six-year-old Labrador had constantly been at her side during her ill-health.
"We actually got married in the cathedral nine years ago and got Ruby three years later," she said.
"It's strange, but before I was diagnosed she actually developed breast lumps and became quite clingy.
"Throughout my treatment she's been a constant by my side and helped so much with things like getting me out talking to people or just by lying with me in bed.
"She's certainly reduced my blood pressure at times and has been a really great comfort."
Johnny added: "She's definitely a very integral part of the family."
As well as boasting her own social media account, the new must-have for modern dogs, Ruby often travels with her owners on holiday, as well as for trips to pubs and restaurants.
Also enjoying the day with the help of a miniature wheelchair was rescue animal Henry, who escaped death from a Shanghai dog pound last year.
Owner Sharon Warnock (53) from Magheralin said the cheeky poodle was thriving despite his injuries.
After he was bitten on the spine by another dog, a volunteer from a Chinese shelter found the desperately injured animal lying in his own mess.
"They really worked hard on his treatment as they saw something in him," said Sharon.
Henry's injuries were "a shock to the system" when she adopted him in March. "He had a wheelchair from China, but it was a bit heavy for his tiny frame. So this is what we call an off-road model from America. He can absolutely fly in it when he's in the beaches or parks. He has a 'drag bag' as well so he can slide around without it. He's cheeky and rules the roost when he goes everywhere with me and my other two dogs."
The plucky poodle has just been voted the official mascot of the Ulster Superbike Championship.
Rescue cat Yoda (10) took a break from his duties as a therapist to brave the dog-filled service with church-going owners Jean Gascoigne and Jo Pawson.
"Bringing him for the first time was special," said Jean.
"He even stayed very calm among all the dogs here as well, which is a bonus."
Arts psychotherapist Jo said it wasn't just their own lives that Yoda had improved.
"He comes into some of the sessions. In one case a wee boy with severe attachment issues said: 'I'm not going to see the therapist, I'm only going to see Yoda'," she said.
"He sat and played with him and all his conversations with me over a number of years were through Yoda. It was an amazing thing to see."
Dean of Belfast the very Rev Stephen Forde said: "In all these ways, pets and animals are a blessing to us as humans. So it's right for us to celebrate the part they play in our lives at this year's Pets' Service, and to share God's blessing with the animals of God's good creation."