Tory representatives attending this year's party conference were surprised to find dogs, gerbils and a rabbit at their morning church mass.

Canon Jim Richardson decided to invite pets along to this week's service at St Peter's Parish Church, Bournemouth, to give them a blessing.

Around 12 unsuspecting representatives from the conference in the nearby International Centre were surprised to find dogs snoring in the aisles alongside a rabbit, gerbils and guinea pigs.

About 20 pets with 170 worshippers turned out for the service along with Christian clowns to entertain the children.

A police dog was due to attend but was called out for an armed robbery.

Canon Richardson said: "A number of delegates from the Tory Party conference were also in church. What they thought of all the animals in church I can't say but I think it was something of a surprise."

He added: "About 20 pets took part and the animals were better behaved than the grown-ups.

"One great boxer dog just lay across the aisle looking thor-oughly bored and miserable. The clowns had some furry toys and as soon as he saw those he sprang to attention.

"Overall the animals weren't frightened. They just tucked down, went to sleep and snored their way through my sermon and the organ."

Canon Richardson added: "We take animals for granted. When you think about working animals, for the blind, the hard of hearing, police dogs, rescue dogs, whenever there's a disaster it's always a dog that's looking for life. When you think about the dimension of enjoyment to life that pets bring.

"We tend to take pets for granted so we are really saying thank you to them."