Erin Bagalman just happened to be dog-sitting for a friend when she heard about the Blessing of the Dogs happening Sunday next door to her house.

She went over to National City Christian Church in Thomas Circle in downtown Washington to see what it was all about and to have the dog, Gideon, meet other canines.

“I thought it might be fun, something unusual to do,” Bagalman said as Gideon tugged on his leash to mingle with the surrounding dogs.

The sixth annual blessing on the steps of the church brought nearly 40 community members, dog owners and canine companions together for a special service complete with gospel singing, prayers, and a little barking and sniffing, too.

The Rev. Stephen Gentle, senior minister at the church, started the service years ago after churchgoers noticed more and more dog walkers in the area. He said the service is meant to remind people of how pets influence lives and to make area dog owners feel welcome.

The outpouring Gentle received from neighbors and parish members after Roxy, his family’s dog, disappeared also moved him to act.

Gentle said he didn’t remember praying for his dog’s health and safety before then. As it takes a village to raise a child, Gentle said, it takes a community to love a dog.

“Our pets bless us in so many ways,” he said. “We bless our pets by the way we love them, care for them, show affection to them. . . . This is our way of asking for a blessing for them because they are a blessing to us.”

Roxy eventually returned home.

The service began with a prayer giving thanks to animals “who can show affection which sometimes puts us to shame.”

“Animals have a spiritual aspect to them, and they have a God-given purpose in our life,” said the Rev. Carol Richardson, who joined the blessing service Sunday for the first time. They “help us learn a lot on our spiritual path.”

Her dog passed away several years ago.

Barbara Boward, 54, has been attending the church for years and bringing her dog Ella since she was a puppy. Having the blessing opens the church up to the neighborhood, she said.

“We really want dog owners to feel part of the community,” Boward said. “It makes people know we’re not going to be upset with their dog being around.”

Kenneth Priebe, 74, has been taking his Siberian husky, Zeke, to the blessing since the first service in 2006. He said that as the dog gets older, the blessings mean more.

“You want to protect your dog just like you pray for yourself,” he said.

For cat lovers looking for a feline-blessing service, Gentle said it’s not that the church doesn’t like cats.

“We just don’t think cats and dogs should be together at the same time,” he said.