Good Shepherd Episcopal Church Hayesville now does pet-therapy ministry, thanks to parishioner Carole Webber and her four-legged therapists. Henry, a mellow 11-year-old Saint Bernard, and Bran Muffin, a lovable 6-year-old Golden Retriever, go with Carole to visit some of Good Shepherd's older parishioners in their homes or at the Clay County Care Center. Carole says of her beloved pets, both rescue dogs, “They are the ones who bring smiles to the patients; I just drive them from place to place.”
More is involved than Carole takes credit for. She has spent many hours training both Henry and Bran, who now are certified by Therapy Dogs International (TDI). Before starting her ministry at Good Shepherd, she was already taking her pets to Bridging the Gap Family Care Center, Truett Children's Home, Moss Memorial Library, and Hayesville Middle School. Then when she and her husband George joined Good Shepherd, she noticed the church's active Pastoral Care ministry, headed by Marilyn Pierce. Marilyn puts Carole in touch with parishioners who want visits. Wherever she and the dogs go, elderly patients and children welcome them with smiles and hugs.
Carole says that Henry, even though he's a really big dog, is agile with the elderly and their medical equipment. One Alzheimer's patient, normally unresponsive, reaches out her arms to hug him. Actually, Carole's passion for pet therapy began because her mother had Alzheimer's and enjoyed pet visits.
According to TDI, whose volunteers work without pay, “The primary objective of the TDI dog and handler is to provide comfort and companionship by sharing the dog with patients. This increases emotional well-being, promotes healing, and improves quality of life for the patients and staff.” Numerous studies have shown that interaction with animals, petting them, touching them, and talking to them, can lower blood pressure, relieve stress, ease depression, and lower anxiety.
When asked why she is so passionate about pet therapy, Carole, who works as an unpaid volunteer, says, “I've seen the magic the love of a dog can bring to people; their eyes come to life just by petting one of my pups....Dogs don't care what the patients look like, if they can speak or not; it's the 'touch' that works this magic.”