Ministry with a Dog

Maggie, my therapy dog, at Peachtree Christian Health

Recently I had the opportunity to visit an Adult Day Health program, Peachtree Christian Health, in Duluth Georgia, with my therapy dog. Maggie is a four year old Chocolate Lab/ German Short Hair Pointer Cross. She adopted us in 2017 at 4 months of age and started her ministry training at Grace Arbor, the adult day respite program in Lawrenceville Georgia. I was director at the time and had already, successfully, used Dottie, our English Pointer as a daily fur share’er. Maggie followed in her footsteps for a little less than a year and then began site and home visits. In 2020 she was formally certified a therapy dog. Because of the pandemic, she shared fur with neighbors and a dear lady from our church and waited, expectantly for more opportunities.

The Mayo Clinic states the importance of animal therapy:

Animal-assisted therapy can significantly reduce pain, anxiety, depression and fatigue in people with a range of health problems:

  • Children having dental procedures
  • People receiving cancer treatment
  • People in long-term care facilities
  • People with cardiovascular diseases
  • People with dementia
  • Veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder
  • People with anxiety

And it’s not only people with health problems who reap the benefits. Family members and friends who sit in on animal visits say they feel better, too.

Over and over I have seen how two dogs, Dottie and Maggie, have reached people with dementia in ways that a human alone can’t. While petting a dog or just watching one interact with someone else, combined with their handler’s words, a person with dementia can be transported from the reality of living with a failing brain to a memory of a beloved pet or funny story! Take my friend Jack…often when Dottie or Maggie visited Grace Arbor, he would relish us with a story of his childhood dog, Pepper, who rode in his bicycle basket, ears flapping in the wind. We heard this story many times with Jack telling it with a laugh and smile. When memories are brought back, new connections are made in their failing brains!

Piper Hill with Healing 4 Heroes

Healing 4 Heroes, based in Peachtree City, matches A.D.A. compliant service dogs with Veterans suffering from post traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injuries. Piper Hill, founder, along with a few Veterans, spoke at a Veteran’s Celebration in 2016 that Grace Arbor sponsored. They shared story after story of how these dogs gave men and women their lives back through their love and attention! We came away inspired and thankful for the stellar work this organization is doing!

After Dottie died I wrote a short story about how a respite ministry transformed a dog who had spent a good deal of her life in the pound, only to be given her freedom to find purpose with people with dementia! Her life’s work brought love and joy to a group of people who were living with dementia. A once forgotten, scared dog became a hero around First United Methodist Church and Grace Arbor. Dottie’s Story is an inspiration for those who have rescued a pet or have thought about taking their dog through pet therapy training.

As the world begins to open up with the rise of vaccinations and the virus declining, Maggie and I hope to be on the road visiting facilities for a little fur therapy. It helps that I have the intense background in dementia care, communication and behaviors. Even if I didn’t, taking a dog anywhere becomes a magnet to people and brings joy! Let me know if you need a visit-have fur; will travel!

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