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Paws in pews: Canterbury Cathedral and other UK churches welcome dogs for the first time

In a survey by the National Churches Trust, two-thirds of Britain’s churches declared themselves open to pets.
In a survey by the National Churches Trust, two-thirds of Britain’s churches declared themselves open to pets. Copyright Matt Nelson
Copyright Matt Nelson
By Rebecca Ann Hughes
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Some parishes hope admitting four-legged friends will boost congregation numbers.

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Churches in the UK are becoming increasingly pet-friendly in a bid to attract more visitors.

Cathedrals in Canterbury, Worcester and Chichester have joined a trial scheme to welcome dogs into their buildings.

In a survey by the National Churches Trust, two-thirds of Britain’s churches declared themselves open to pets.

Some parishes hope admitting four-legged friends will boost congregation numbers.

Dogs welcome in Canterbury Cathedral for the first time

Canterbury Cathedral has joined an initiative that will allow dogs to enter the building for the first time.

All dogs, which are already welcome on the grounds, can be brought inside under the scheme. At the moment, however, only guide dogs or other assistance animals will be permitted to accompany owners at services.

The move hopes to make the historic attraction more accessible and encourage more visitors.

Michael D Beckwith/Michael D Beckwith CC0, via Wikimedia Commons
Canterbury Cathedral has joined an initiative that will allow dogs to enter the building.Michael D Beckwith/Michael D Beckwith CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Worcester and Chichester cathedrals are also participating in the scheme which is trialling this summer from 1 July to 31 August.

The aim is to make the buildings “more welcoming,” say the deans.

Some rules naturally apply. Dogs must be kept on a lead at all times and owners must clear up after their pet.

Worcester’s guidelines state that dogs are prohibited from chewing, scratching or damaging the building. Owners should ensure they do not bark loudly and that they avoid approaching any other visitors who are uncomfortable or allergic.

Pet-friendly services gain popularity in UK churches

In the National Churches Trust poll of 285 UK churches, 63 per cent said they welcome dogs or hold pet services.

In England and Wales, 15 of the 42 cathedrals already allow dogs during visiting hours and guide dogs at all times.

Some parishes are rolling out the red carpet for four-legged companions. St Botolph in Lincolnshire, which was officially acclaimed as an Animal Friendly Church in 2016, offers snacks to dogs that join the congregation.

Churches in Penwith, Cornwall, welcome canines during bell ringing. “The best dog is Barnabas who goes to every ringing event across Penwith,” Revd Elizabeth Foot told the National Churches Trust.

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“His predecessor Fabion was given a long service award for attendance at bell ringing events.”

Pet-friendly services to boost church congregation numbers

The move to be more welcoming to pets comes amid an increasing decline in the number of churchgoers in the UK. The total average attendance at Sunday services dropped from 707,100 in 2019 to 509,200 in 2021.

Churches hope admitting animal companions will boost congregation numbers and foster closer connections.

“The dog is an ice-breaker for a lot of people, and other dog owners love meeting other dog owners as well, so that creates more sense of connection, of community,” Dr David Monteith, the Dean of Canterbury, told BBC Kent.

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“You’re not just visiting a place, but you’re actually making contact with people.”

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