FOUR-legged friends will be welcome at a special service at a church in Chipping Campden.

A big congregation is expected at the pet blessing service at St James' Church on Sunday, April 27 which is open to anyone who wants to bring their cat, tortoise, horse or any other animal friend.

The 11am service will be led by the Reverend Sheila Rosenthal, chaplain of Evesham Community Hospital, as the church is temporarily without its own priest until the appointment of the Rev Craig Bishop, who moves from Coln St Aldwyns, in June.

Rev Rosenthal, who owns two giant schnauzers with her husband, Andrew, at their Bourton-on-the-Hill home, said: “Pets are often the unnoticed companions in our lives.

"They wait for us at home, come with us on our walks, indeed make us go for walks when we would perhaps rather stay at home in the warm and the dry.

"When they die their loss goes unsanctified by the Church, although our hearts are often broken as keenly as when any other loved one dies.

“The service is a way of recognising that we are all creatures and that these particular creatures are a particular blessing.”

Small pets must be securely caged for the service and dogs should be on a lead while larger animals such as horses will be blessed outside the church.

The blessing of pets is an ancient Christian tradition, often linked with the feast days of St Anthony the Great in January – legend says that when he prayed and fasted in the desert, animals were his only companions – and of St. Francis of Assisi in October.