My golden retriever, Brody, recently earned national certification for dog therapy/crisis therapy. It was a milestone I wasn’t sure we would ever reach. I’ve been taking Brody weekly to evening dog training classes since soon after I first brought him home in the summer of 2015. When the trainer initially asked my goals for Brody, I said, “For him to walk on a leash without pulling me off my feet, not to jump up on people, and to come when called.” In time we accomplished all that—but also much more.
Together Brody and I have gone through months of basic and then advanced group training, with a few one-on-one sessions thrown in. These were followed by special dog therapy classes to help prepare us for more intense training with an instructor from a national dog therapy/crisis organization.
During those final “military-style” sessions Brody and I—together with about 20 other dogs and handlers—began with bus etiquette. We eventually shortened the time it took all of us to load onto the bus and sit down with the dogs under our seats from 15 minutes to less than a minute. Next we were transported to the local airport, where we learned to safely take our dogs up and down escalators and through airport security. Then a trip to a local fire station tested our dogs’ ability to deal with loud noises by remaining calm while the fire engine blasted its siren.
Our instructor made it clear that unlike service dogs, therapy dogs are not allowed into restaurants or to fly free on airplanes; in times of crisis, however, our team of dogs could be called in to provide comfort and distraction that might require approved air or bus travel. This training was to prepare us for such events.
The most vital training of all, though, took place in assisted living centers, where residents crowded lobbies and hallways for the opportunity to meet our dogs. Many of them held and petted the calm canines as if they were long-lost friends. Some shed tears as they recounted stories of former pets. They also shared other memories of life’s joys and heartaches. They opened up in ways they may not have done as readily without the dogs. It was an enlightening experience.
Taking a dog to visit a lonely nursing home resident or a struggling hospital patient or a highly stressed college student during exam week or a child in a library who wants to read a story to your dog—these all are very simple ministries. They can, however, make a difference in a person’s life, if only to provide a few minutes of happy distraction. These experiences have reinforced that not all ministries have to involve major events. Instead, they can be ordinary, everyday, small acts of kindness and caring interaction. The list of possibilities is endless—and they don’t have to involve a dog!
In other words, even simple ministries can be meaningful. It just means choosing to do them.
To read a recent Washington Post article that discusses the benefits of pet therapy, go to http://wapo.st/2dgwEMN.
Sandra Blackmer is an assistant editor of Adventist Review.