Over a quarter century ago, founder Shari Ferguson led her first team of just two volunteers with their dogs into a League City long-term care facility. It was the initial foray of Faithful Friends, a ministry of University Baptist Church in Clear Lake.
“The seniors were so excited to see the animals that some were dressing up and putting on makeup on the days that the animals came to visit,” Ferguson recalled. “One resident even went around the facility saying ‘the dogs are here, the dogs are here.’”
The team promptly christened him, ‘Paw Revere.’
It’s an ongoing, heartfelt investment of people and pups that has spread throughout our county and up north to Webster and a few Houston hospitals from that small, three-person launch.
“We have had patients tell us that they no longer needed to use their pain medication when the animals were visiting with them,” Ferguson said. “We also go to the physical and occupational therapy rooms to participate in recovery from illnesses and operations. As we would travel the hallways, we noticed that the doctors and staff also appreciated the unconditional love of the animals. One time, as we were walking the hallway, a doctor came and buried his head in the side of a Labrador retriever named Captain Jack. We noticed that he was crying while he was running his fingers through the dog’s hair. When he finished, the doctor stood back up and said, ‘I really needed that.’”
The ministry reached out after the Santa Fe shooting, touching families, students and first responders.
“Students shared with the animals how they were feeling, and the animals responded with cuddles, licks and loving looks,” she said. “We continued ministering to the Santa Fe students by starting a regular visit to Santa Fe library.”
On a far lighter note, volunteer Georgia Dismukes explained that the group also provides special visits to the local colleges and high schools during final exam times when God, plus a friendly, furry face, may be invoked against tough tests.
“I think people are so in need of the unconditional love God gives and that animals can provide as well that they are excited to see the animals come into their facility,” Ferguson added. “I wanted my life to mean something and to be able to give back, and this has provided that opportunity.”
Volunteers are welcome and training is provided. To sign up yourself and your pet, email faithfulfriendsAAT@gmail.com.
Although the four-footed ministers shown are all of the canine persuasion, you can join with almost any tame critter including ferrets, miniature horses and even—cats.
Just what do the various animals, and their caring handlers, mean to those under unexpected stress? Jonathan Jones, who serves with his golden-chow, Boo, explained.
“People have had the EMTs stop their stretcher long enough to pet the dogs,” he said. “A lot of people are in distress and petting the dogs seems to be a great medicine.”
Kathleen Thorney offered an insight from her experiences with her dog minister, Lacy, a tri-colored sheltie. The pair were part of the Santa Fe consolation work.
“Working with a therapy dog changes both the dog and the volunteer,” she said. “We become more responsive to those who reach out to us. There is an amazing change that takes place in ideal therapy dogs. They learn that their job is to help all people and that they can do so by simply responding with love to those who reach out to them.”
Georgia Dismukes, a veteran who recently returned from a tour in Germany, is another volunteer.
“I see God at work every time we visit,” she said. “The smiles on residents faces and the love and hugs exchanged have ‘God’ written all over. This is something that keeps me coming back. You know our visits bring happiness to many.”
Faithful Friends welcomes invitations from churches to speak about their work. For details, call 281-488-8517.
Next week in Our Faith: VBS mania—The annual season of bright, colorful and occasionally slightly crazy vacation Bible school is upon us. Meet some of the creators and testers for the most popular programs.