A parishioner at Holy Spirit in Tempe was sure to get her dogs blessed during the church's annual Blessing of the Animals in 2009. For many, pets are family and a new initiative from Family Promise of Greater Phoenix and PetSmart will keep homeless families and their pets together.

Catholics know well the importance of family — the one at home, the Church family, the school family, etc. They often understand, if not live by the rule themselves, that pets are often part of the family. Just think of the crowds that show up every October during a Blessing of the Animals that many churches hold.

Some of those pets are even lucky enough to make it into the church directory. I've seen several directories over the years. And there's always at least a few pictures where the pets are included in the family photo.

Family Promise of Greater Phoenix and PetSmart know that “pets are family” too and took a concrete step toward showing their commitment to keeping them together. PetSmart donated $33,000 to Family Promise to create the PetPromise pet area. The two organizations came together Monday for a check presentation and groundbreaking. Funds will convert a two-bedroom apartment into a dog condo, cat condo and greeting area.

Family Promise's guests, who are housed in area churches overnight — including three in the Phoenix Diocese (see church list) — will be able to visit their pets daily from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. They must feed and care for their pet. Food needs for the families remain the responsibility of host churches.

Family Promise expects to serve 25 families with pets within the next 12 months and hopes to achieve a 70 percent success rate of graduating families. Both partners hope the initiative also decreases the number of animals surrendered to already capacity-challenged animal shelters.

“Homelessness is such a traumatic event in anyone's life and to be forced to give away a pet — a member of the family — just magnifies the pain,” Joe O'Leary, PetSmart's Executive Vice President of Merchandising, Supply Chain and Marketing said in a press release.

See the full release for details on the new pet area. Here are some video highlights as well (with a dog, of course).

For ways to give, donate items or volunteer, check out the “how to help” page or follow the organization on Facebook.

And for fun, here's a favorite PetSmart commercial. It definitely shows how pets are important members of the family.