Pastoral Pup Ministry
Follow Frances on Instagram: @francesstmarks
Introducing Frances, our Pastoral Pup
Last program year, we immersed ourselves in the life of St. Francis, dedicating ourselves to following the prayer attributed to him. Motivated to make his teachings even more relevant, we were inspired by his love of all God’s creatures to investigate the possibility of a St. Mark’s Pastoral Pup Ministry. This ministry would allow us to use the unique gifts and skills of a specially trained dog as an outreach tool, interacting with people in a way that would bring them closer to God’s love and mercy. Led by one of God’s remarkable creatures, we would work to sow love, faith, hope, light, joy and consolation in both the parish and wider community.
Many of you may know the joy of experiencing the unconditional love of a dog or other pet. Animals spontaneously give praise to God simply by being who they are created to be. They naturally convey a joy and openness that can often be transformative.
Initial research by Jan Maynes and Laura Watt into this potential ministry led them to Christ the King Lutheran Church in Newtown, CT. The parish is home to Maggie, a “comfort dog” placed there by Lutheran Church Charities in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook tragedy. After spending a day with Maggie and learning about her work, Jan and Laura came back to St. Mark’s enthused to continue to pursue the viability of having our own pastoral pup.
As part of this process, they interviewed church personnel who are affiliated with the LCC program, spoke with a number of therapy dog trainers and handlers, and investigated breeds that are well suited for this type of work. They also had conversations with human care professionals who attest to the incredibly positive effects a therapy dog can have on people of all ages in almost any setting and circumstance. After close to 10 months of research and careful consideration, the Vestry unanimously approved St. Mark’s Pastoral Pup Ministry.
I am happy to let you know that a puppy has become available to us through a kennel in Alabama that has a Christian mission to breed and train Goldendoodles for visitation work. They are very excited about placing one of their dogs with us. Our female Goldendoodle is named Frances. She passed a temperament assessment test with flying colors and has begun a 16-week training program. She will come to us in October and will be registered to make official visits as a member of the St. Mark’s staff at age one (mid- to late April). She will live with a host family. There will be a backup family for times of travel, etc. As we move forward, we will be looking for parishioners who are interested in becoming certified handlers in order to accompany our pastoral pup on visits.
Frances will become a regular presence at St. Mark’s church services and activities. She will also visit the Preschool, our Church School and Youth Programs, support groups, homebound individuals, hospitals and hospice, residential care facilities, community events, and provide crisis response. In addition, she will be available to visit any individuals or families who might appreciate the calm and consolation a special dog can bring to stressful situations.
This will be an exciting ministry with almost unlimited possibilities to reach within and beyond our walls. It will be the first of its kind in the Episcopal Church in Connecticut.
Feel free to contact either Jan Maynes or Laura Watt at the Church Office (203.966.4515) with any questions. We will provide regular updates and more information about how to get involved in the months ahead.