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Paws in the pews: Ministry dogs

Mosby, a 3-year-old golden retriever who was deemed too friendly for work as an assistance dog for the disabled, has found a purpose in God’s house.

Mosby is a ministry dog, one of a growing breed of assistance dogs assigned to clergy and church workers. He was featured in a Boston Globe article yesteday.

A few times each week, Mosby visits hospitals and assisted living centers. But his busiest day is Sunday, when he can be found in a pew alongside his owners, Lynda and Larry Fisher, at the First Baptist Church of Littleton, where they are longtime members and he’s the official greeter.

“A dog ministry breaks down barriers right away,’’ said the Rev. Deborah Blanchard. “It helps put aside the barriers and connect on a real level to offer comfort and love.’’

The idea of a formal training program for ministry dogs sprang up just over a decade ago, when a divinity student and dog lover made a case to NEADS, Dogs for Deaf and Disabled Americans, a nonprofit organization based in Princeton, Mass., that is one of the nation’s largest assistance-dog training programs.

“She explained how she’d be going to hospices and working with the elderly and sick children, all populations who can’t have a dog but could really benefit,’’ said Sheila O’Brien, the agency’s chief executive officer. “She said, ‘You know, Sheila, dog spelled backwards is God.’ ’’

NEADS has trained more than 15 dogs as ministry dogs since 1998.

Lynda Fisher approached NEADS  last year in hopes of being matched with a ministry dog afer she and her husband, Larry, lost their dog, a 15-year-old Brittany spaniel named Jessie.

“I told them, ‘I’m a deaconess at my church. Part of my duties is to visit the sick and infirm, and it would go so much better with a dog,’ ’’ Fisher recalled.

Although the dogs are generally designated for ministers, Fisher’s 40-year affiliation with First Baptist and enthusiastic devotion to her faith, and to dogs, won her an exception to the rule.

Comments

Comment from Judy
Time September 20, 2009 at 10:49 am

I am home today (Sunday) because I have a sore throat. Reggie (my therapy dog) and I were scheduled to give the “children’s sermon” at our church this morning. Next Sunday we will do the message at the Youth Worship. I have written the programs to incorporate Reggie as a part of the story. We have been doing this for over two years, in addition to the traditional therapy dog work at health care centers. I read with interest about Mosby. I wonder if he is ever used as a part of story-telling. If so, let’s exchange ideas. Our web site is:
http://www.therapydogministry.org. Maybe we could exchange links. What do you think?

Comment from Diane Mc Dowell
Time February 23, 2013 at 12:10 pm

I have been using my registered Therapy Dog, a 10lb. Mini Schnauzer, as part my church’s missions/ministry programs. Making weekly visits to a Christian Care facility. Would like her visits to be more official.

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