THE congregation at a Bournemouth church was bolstered by a number of 'four-legged friends' during a service celebrating all creatures great at small.

Reverend Janice Seare led the annual animal blessing service at St John's Church, Holdenhurst Village, on Sunday.

This year dozens of dogs - along with their proud owner - took part in the thanksgiving service, but in years gone past the small church has accommodated ponies.

Revd Seare told the Daily Echo: "I'm a farmer's daughter, a farmer's wife, and animals have always been very much part of my life. I think they bring so much joy to people.

"My lot - farmers - have an affinity for animals. They have to, to be able to make a living out of them. If you don't treat them well, you don't get anywhere."

The Reverend has been holding the service, which is supported by charity Caring Canines, for around 15 years.

She said: "Where did I get the idea? Well, I don't know - maybe from the Vicar of Dibley, which is what I get called sometimes.

"I love to fill the church with animals. I've had three ponies attending at the back, as good as gold. I've had chickens, snakes, tortoises, but I particularly have a heart for Caring Canines."

Caring Canines is a self-funded, non profit making voluntary group offering dog assisted therapy within a 15 mile radius of the Bournemouth area.

Because of the wet conditions the ponies did not put in a repeat appearance on Sunday, but plenty of our other four-legged friends did.

Revd Seare said: "I trained and worked as a nurse when I was young. I know how much joy and pleasure dogs bring to patients in hospital. I remember sitting with a lady who was dying, the dog comes in and she just lights up.

"I think today is a way of saying thank you for all they do, and acknowledging all they do."

Over the years the Revd has read up a lot on the subject.

"Racing pigeons were used during the war, there's the Dickin medal that is awarded to animals for bravery, dogs are honoured for their bravery," she explained. "Just think of horses in war. I cannot bear to go and watch War Horse because I'd cry all the way through.

"This service is a lovely way to reach out and say thank you to animals."