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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Dog on a mission

Joan Herbon and Parker have a similar mission at Trinity Lutheran Seminary, Columbus, Ohio. Both are learning to minister to those in need.

The difference is that Herbon is a seminarian and Parker is a golden retriever who is being trained as part of Paws with a Cause, an organization that prepares assistance dogs for people with disabilities.

Parker is the 20th puppy that Herbon has trained for various service tasks, including aiding the blind, the hearing impaired and the physically challenged.

Each dog stays with her for a year, then receives more training from Paws headquarters in Moline, Mich., before receiving the "call" to serve a person with special needs.

Part of Herbon's job is to socialize Parker so he is comfortable in any setting. The seminary gave her special permission to take Parker to class. Mary Hughes, professor of Christian education, said it didn't take long to approve Herbon's request once the administration understood how her work with dogs converges with her call to ministry.

Besides attending classes, Parker volunteers Sunday mornings at Lutheran Village, a retirement facility.

Letting go of her charges is difficult, Herbon said, adding, "But I've enjoyed all the puppies I've raised. I've been blessed and enriched by them and I know the difference they will make in the lives of the people they will serve."

One of her previous dogs, Elvis, went to a young man named Keith, who later died of kidney failure. Elvis was reactivated as a guide dog for another man, who formed a relationship with Keith's parents.

"They were brought together by the love of a dog," Herbon said.

The future pastor imagines having to explain to a call committee that she may routinely have a dog with her in the pulpit. But if her future partners in ministry are anything like Parker, it's likely that any congregation would consider her four-legged helpers a blessing.

For more information about Paws with a Cause call (800) 253-PAWS [7297], or visit www.pawswithacause.org.


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