It's a few minutes before services on a Sunday morning at Bethany United Methodist Church in West Jefferson, N.C. The handbell choir warms up and an acolyte lights candles.
Church member Peggy Lynn Gibson walks in with her dog, a stout, cream-colored golden retriever named Rocky. The congregants greet Rocky like an old friend.
"How are you? You're a sweetheart," one man says to the dog. "And so are you," the man tells Gibson.
Pastor Dan Money welcomes the congregation as Rocky, an honorary church member, settles in at Gibson's feet in a pew near the back.