ORLANDO — Worshippers who don’t like to leave their sad-eyed pets behind can now take them to “doggie church.”
“Dogs of all faiths welcome,” is the motto of Hymns & Hounds, a dog-friendly church here. In April, Pastor Dee Renda gave families a way to include their pets spiritually. The 55-year-old pastor and former Florida professional dog trainer saw an article 2 1/2 years ago about a church in Fort Lauderdale that allowed all types of pets.
Renda loved the idea, but decided to open the outreach church of the Apopka Assembly to only dogs.
“I am not a bird or iguana trainer and I wouldn’t know what to do if an iguana got eaten by one of the dogs,” she said.
The church has moved from a tent on the grounds of Apopka Assembly to the air-conditioned indoors of Absolute Heaven Pet Spa & Resort. Located on the west side of Orlando, it is about a 50-minute drive from DeLand. Renda said the services are monthly so “people might make more of an effort to come,” and travel from farther away.
Margie Durney has been making the 30-minute commute from Altamonte Springs since the church began meeting in April. Durney said she waited until she retired before rescuing Silhouette, her 6-year-old Italian greyhound, because she didn’t want to leave a pooch alone at home.
Durney said years have passed since she attended church; she usually just watched it on television. But now that she has a place to bring her “little girl,” she makes the drive.
“This is my baby,” she said, “I was reluctant to leave her to go to church.”
The nondenominational service usually starts with praise and worship.
“A few dogs sing with us,” said Renda, who brings her Border collie, Maggie, to church. But “I’ve never had a fight or trouble with the dogs.”
During a recent sermon, Renda likened a dog’s relationship to its owner to people’s relationship to God. When you go to the pound and rescue a dog, you bring that animal into your family. Jesus rescued us and brought us into his family, Renda said.
Following the sermon, “Yappy Hour” begins. Dogs on leashes socialize with other dogs and enjoy refreshments.
The sixth gathering of the church will be Sept. 11. The church could still change locations, so Renda asks that anyone interested in attending contact her first at (407) 880-9308.