Therapy Animals of Utah
When the opportunity arose to provide a special church camp service for children in the community, Mary Lou Morales knew exactly what to do – invite Therapy Animals of Utah! Her church, The Community Vineyard in Ogden, supported the decision. A nurse by profession, Ms. Morales said, “I am aware of what therapy dogs do and the value they provide.”
Ms. Morales also saw this as an opportunity to provide children with a service to learn how to approach dogs. She explains, “A couple of the kids had had bad experiences with dogs previously, but by the end of the camp they were comfortable to meet the animals and knew how to better approach them.”
During the camp service, the TAU handlers each presented their dog, what their dog does, where they volunteer and what is involved in grooming the dog. Children enjoyed hands-on personal time with each dog, too. In preparation for the dogs’ visit, the children made gift bags containing cheery items and toys for the dogs to give to hospitalized children that they visit and kids traveling through the Salt Lake City International airport.
“We were pleasantly surprised how it affected the adults, too, not just the children,” said John Jordana, an elder at The Community Vineyard. “It was very positive.”
“It exceeded our expectations,” said Ms. Morales. “It was the highlight of our camp. When the dogs came in one by one with their handler, the kids were so excited. The dogs were so precious and kind. The children loved them all, especially Roc and Runner.”
Meanwhile, across town at the First United Methodist Church in Ogden, every third Sunday evening of the month is called “Paws in the Pews.” Youth Pastor Michelle Perry said this started a few years ago after a particular man visited the church. After worship, Pastor Michelle asked him why he frequently went outside and came back in during the service. He explained that he was a truck driver and was making a delivery up the road. His dog traveled with him, and he had tied her up outside and wanted to check on her.
“I told him that if he ever passed this way again, he was more than welcome to bring her in with him,” said Pastor Michelle, who confesses she has always thought dogs should be able to come to church.
“As I told that story to folks in church, and my desire to allow dogs to come into church with them, the support grew (really the support was already there). In the weeks to come after that it was decided that once a month people could bring their dogs with them. We called it Paws in the Pews.”
The Paws in the Pews service has garnered much interest. “There are people out there who, for many reasons, need or want their dog with them wherever they go,” said Pastor Michelle. Paws in the Pews enables some people to attend who wanted go to church but previously couldn’t because of a physical, mental or emotional condition that made it hard for them to not be with their dogs. “Since these peoples’ dogs are not service dogs, a lot of places don’t allow them,” explained Pastor Michelle. “I just don’t think a place of worship should be a place that restricts people from coming just because they need their dog with them to feel comfortable.”
Of course some people attend who just love the idea of being able to bring their dog with them as they worship. Among them are several of TAU’s northern Utah teams. “All dogs are welcome – therapy, service or otherwise,” says Pastor Michelle, “it does not matter. I just ask that they be on a leash.” Most people (and dogs) also enjoy the after-service fellowship time when the dogs can romp and play.
The dogs do not perform any special function during the service other than enjoying being with their family. “Although I will say that when my band plays something rather ‘upbeat’ the dogs seem to love to ‘sing’ along,” says Pastor Michelle. “I love that part. It’s something to see and hear as the pups sing along with their family.”
To that, we say Amen! Thanks to these churches who welcome Therapy Animals of Utah and other dogs to their services.