METAIRIE, LA (WVUE) - They love us unconditionally. They become members of the family. And for many of us, letting go of our dogs when they die can be extremely tough.
But many believe they will see their dogs again - in Heaven. And they're doing everything they can to make sure man's best friend is blessed for this life and the life to come.
In Pastor Bonnie Poirer's congregation recently - two dozen dogs and their owners at a benefit for the St. Tammany Humane Society, a no-kill shelter on the north shore.
"When I first got started doing the pet blessings, people thought that pet ministry was an odd thing," said Poirier, pastor at Ministry of St. Francis Assisi
But not anymore. Events like this show the interest in pet spirituality is alive and well.
"Because people knew intrinsically that animals have souls," Poirier said. "But the question became, will we see them when we go to Heaven? When we die, will we see our pets again? I believe that to be the case."
The pastor is clearly not alone. Bob Rhoden brought his dog to this event and says his 92-pound golden retriever, Beau, is blessed.
"Any opportunity Beau can have, we take advantage of that," Rhoden said. "We wish him a long life, and both my wife and I love our dog very much."
And a dog this good could really only be headed one place when his time on Earth is through.
"I don't think Beau has a mean bone in his body," Rhoden said.
Janet Riddell of Covington has owned eight dogs over the years. She uses scripture to support her belief that she will see Fido and the rest of her dogs again one day.
"I think that if you read the Bible, there is a place for them over that rainbow bridge," Riddell said. "I know one day we'll be reunited, and I know they'll all be there to greet me."
"September" is a 4-year-old Chihuahua mix up for adoption at the St. Tammany Humane Society. And believe it or not, there are some who believe that the way we treat animals like this - by adopting them and caring for them - is criteria for whether or not we will join them in heaven.
"Now I believe our animals are our earthly tangible link to Heaven," Poirier said in prayer. "I believe that if we pay attention to our animals and to God's creation, we will be guided back to the path that will lead us back to Heaven and to God.
Poirier believes the dog at the end of your leash may lead you on much more than a simple walk.
"They know when we are sad, they know when we are happy," Poirier said. "And we don't need to say it with our voices, they just know it. So they're with us as little spiritual directors as I like to say."
If it all sounds kind of crazy, Poirier says that's ok. Her ministry only goes so far. After all, she can't exorcize the bad behavior out of canines.
"I will have people come to me---and they'll say, 'Oh I've got this really unruly dog, keeps going after the electrical wiring. It's eaten out the insulation in my house. What can you do?" Well, nothing!" Poirier said, laughing.
All kidding aside, Poirier sees pet blessings as a way of helping their owners, too.
"We get so attached to our pets," she said. "They become our family members, our family. And when they do die - and they do die - it's a part of [the owner] that seems to die as well."
But before dogs go to Heaven, they go to Heaven's Pets, a dignified final resting place for man's best friend on the grounds of Lake Lawn Cemetery in Metairie.
"What we like to offer here is a place where people who have ever lost a pet, that they can come and spend time and know that their pet is remembered here," said Heaven's Pets President Patrick McCausland.
McCausland says his organization seeks to give families closure and peace during a difficult time.
"They all want to know that their pet has gone on," he said. "They want to see their pet in the afterlife and they want to be able to spend that time with their pet. And so they truly and honestly believe they want to show a dignified representation just as they would want to do on the human side. So here at Heaven's Pets we handle everything just as you would on the human side."
The facility features a memorial garden lined with engraved bricks - reminders of faithful friends who have gone on to a better place. And for people who may want to have a lasting memento of their pet with them until they meet again, Heaven's Pets offers pendants, urns and engravings.
"All we do - take them for a walk, give them some food and a little scratch behind the ear," Poirier said. "They give us so much. They provide us with that unconditional love, they are our teachers. They just give us so much in return for the little that we give them."
Anyone who has loved a dog knows one thing for sure: Any blessings are entirely mutual. No bones about it.