Next to an open Bible on a table inside the Riverview Animal Clinic on U.S. 280, pet Chaplain Marcus Allison cuddled a sick, shivering brown puppy in one arm, reading aloud a verse of scripture.

Then he stroked the dog’s fur and spoke softly. “The Lord loves you,” he said. “The Lord has shined his grace on you. We love you.”

Becky Pearce, 22, who works at the Riverview clinic, found the female puppy abandoned on a road in Pleasant Grove. She picked her up, brought her to the clinic and named the puppy Paige. A veterinarian contacted Allison, a Homewood-based chaplain who specializes in caring for the spiritual needs of animals.

Pearce said the puppy was in bad shape, and would be difficult to save.

“He said he’d like to see her and pray for her,” Pearce said.

Allison was recently ordained by the Rev. Keith Brown, founder of The Chaplain of Pets Ministry in Stone Mountain, Ga.

Allison’s services include praying for and laying hands on pets, anointing them with oil, providing grief support for pet owners, giving last rites to dying pets and performing memorial services for pets. He draws on traditional Christianity, but he considers the ministry interfaith.

The former grief counselor says he has been through traumatic experiences with pets and was disappointed at how his own pastors have dealt with the issue of animals and the grief of pet owners.

“My ministry is for animals and people,” he said. “My goal is to help people connected with animals to have faith.”

Pets have souls and are an expression of God’s unconditional love, Allison said. “My greatest spiritual lessons have come from animals.”

He believes prayers have helped two of his own pets recover when they were on the verge of death.

“There’s nothing as good as prayer,” Allison said.

Allison, who previously ran a pet-sitting business, said he had a dog that had congestive heart failure and kidney failure, and could no longer walk. He asked his pastor to pray for the dog and the pastor said no. So he did some research looking for a pet chaplain and found Brown, who agreed to pray for the dog.

“She suddenly got better,” Allison said. “She just came back alive and could walk around the block with me again.”

Earlier, he had a dying cat. “I prayed, `Let me accept your will,'” he said. “She lived another year and a half.”

Allison likes to cite biblical references to animals.

“In Revelation, Jesus rides a great white horse,” Allison said. “Where’d that horse come from if there are no animals in heaven? Scripture says the lion will lay down with the lamb. How can the lion lay down with the lamb if there are no animals in heaven?”

Allison believes animals have souls.

“God created animals before man, before the fall,” Allison said. “They can’t sin. They don’t need salvation. It’s already assured to them. Who could be more pure than an animal? The greatest teachers of God’s love are animals. It’s the closest we can come to God’s unconditional love.”

Many people like to have a memorial service when a pet dies, Allison said. He does services to celebrate the lives of pets.

“A lot of people feel left out in the cold by the attitude of ministers toward people grieving over animals,” he said. “That’s why animal clergy is needed. Some people experience more grief when an animal dies than when a person dies.”

Not everybody has been welcoming of his offers to pray for pets, or his views on pet salvation. Some think he may be kidding, or crazy.

“Some people think it’s silly or look at me like I’m from Mars,” Allison said.

Still, some veterinarians have welcomed Allison, saying patients may find spiritual support with their pets helpful.

“Marcus is real sincere, very kind and caring,” said Dr. Arthur Serwitz, co-owner of Riverview.

“For certain people, spirituality is very important and they want to be reminded that their pets are God’s creatures,” said Dr. Amy Tate, also an owner at Riverview.

A day after the visit from the chaplain, Paige the puppy took a turn for the worse. Tate said the puppy may have had congenital kidney problems.

“It was a real complicated case,” Serwitz said.

The puppy died on Monday. “It was comforted at the end,” Tate said.