Dolly and Shelby are a couple of dogs who have found their vocations and a Lutheran community to support and encourage them — together with their human teammates.
A few times each year the sanctuary of Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, Garland, Texas, fills up with animals and their human companions. Many aren't members of Gloria Dei — the humans that is. Most of the animals are dogs, but some cats and rabbits are present. It's a commissioning service for Pet Partners who have completed training for service in the community.
Each Pet Partner team — a human and animal — works to make a difference in schools and counseling centers. They even work in courtrooms, where dogs help calm or comfort children whose testimony is necessary. The Pet Partners organization trains and evaluates both humans and animals.
The "top dog" at Gloria Dei is Dolly.
In 1980, Carolyn Marr introduced therapy animals to her work as director of rehabilitation at the state psychiatric hospital in Terrell, Texas. When she retired, Marr wanted to work with a Pet Partner of her own. She chose Dolly, a long-haired Chihuahua.
"The dog must be suitable, with the right temperament, basic aptitude and tolerance for various situations," Marr said. Dolly has what it takes.
Dolly's was the first commissioning of a Pet Partner at Gloria Dei. The congregation's pastor, Chuck Hubbard, spontaneously suggested it during the announcements: "We should commission and bless Dolly as she begins this very important work."
Marr explained, "Some church members had helped with Dolly's socializing exercises, and Pastor Hubbard told the congregation that Dolly and I had completed our team evaluation."
For the commissioning, Dolly, dressed in pink, took part in the children's sermon and the choir dedicated an anthem to her service. Hubbard put the little Pet Partner vest on Dolly and prayed over her: "We lift Dolly before you, Lord, asking that as a result of gentle encounters with her, people might experience healing and comfort — as well as encouragement for facing both life and death."
Dolly got her start as a puppy visiting Marr's mother and other residents of an assisted living center. "She is very gentle and loving. She allowed everyone to hold her and stroke her silky long hair," she said.
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