If you have ever owned or loved dogs, you probably know about the positive effects they can have on a person’s mood. Just a few minutes spent with a dog has the ability to profoundly improve a person’s day. What would it look like for highly trained dogs to provide companionship and respite for the elderly and children with special needs? Speech therapy specialist, Becky Broadfoot of Elizabeth City, North Carolina is determined to answer that question.
Broadfoot relocated from Montgomery, Alabama in September 2014 with her husband Chip, a Christ Episcopal Church Rector. While working in a hospital in Alabama as a speech therapy specialist, Broadfoot was affiliated with an organization known as Dogs on Call, which provides trained dogs to visit patients with special needs. Broadfoot says the intended patients were not the only ones who benefitted from the visits—elderly patients were also drawn to the dogs.
“They would love them and it was a calming effect,” Broadfoot recalled.
After moving to Elizabeth City, Broadfoot was eager to find a similar program, but was surprised to discover that there were no such programs in the area. Not to be deterred, she rounded up some fellow dog owners in her new community and started her own—a pastoral ministry through Christ Episcopal Church known as Paws with Christ. The ministry provides companionship in nursing homes and schools, and hopes to eventually visit hospitals as well.
The dogs are trained to know common commands and also must be able to tolerate unfamiliar noises and environments. Broadfoot said 15 owners originally submitted their dogs for training, but only 11 met the requirements. As part of the testing, trainers subject the dogs to stimuli that might typically evoke a fear response, such as stepping over the dogs, pulling their tails, dropping trays, and making loud noises.The dogs that tolerate these types of tests without barking or shrinking back in fear are the ones who make good candidates. Why?
“The breed doesn’t matter, it’s the temperament,” Broadfoot said.
The 11 Paws with Christ dogs are a wide variety of breeds and sizes.There are Beagles, a Portuguese Water Dog, and even a Basset Hound. Broadfoot, who also enrolled her own Standard Dachshund in the program, states that some patients like the larger dogs while others prefer small breeds. Regardless of size, the dogs are a hit in Elizabeth City.
“It’s funny because we’ll walk into Carolina House and people will just light up,” she mused. “People will walk out of their rooms, or come up from the television and pet the dog.”
The dogs’ owners must also participate in the program by keeping their pets clean and handling them at each outing. Broadfoot is happy to have found dogs and owners who are as passionate about the ministry as she is.
“The people that are participating are just so excited to go and the dogs love it. The dogs just wag their tails when they get their vests on because they know they are going to be with people. It’s just a positive all the way around.”
If you are interested in participating in the program or would like more information, please contact Christ Episcopal Church at (252) 338-1686.
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