Four-Footed Ministers-Spiritual Sojourners

Jul 8

The Wonders of Modern Science

Dear Readers—Alya here.

In May, Mom discovered after a series of tests, that I had very low amounts of Vitamin B12. The recommendation from my internist (yes, they do have these specialties in the medical field for dogs), suggested a series of Vitamin B12 shots. Unfortunately, this particular vitamin is not absorbed well through the gut, so mom had to learn how to give me my weekly shot. 

Every Sunday morning for the past eight weeks, I have been very patient while she prepares the shot. She then grabs the skin on the back of my neck and… it is over in a flash. I feel so much better now and have my pep and energy back.

Though we had to give up our regular visits at Maryville because of all the walking, I still get the opportunity to visit with the assisted-living residents at St. Anthony’s Village. I really enjoy my work with them when we gather for dog-ministry prayer group once a week.

Take care and blessings. I think I feel a nap coming on…

Alya, still a Four-Footed Minister

Update from a Hospice Chaplain and her Four-Footed Minister

Here is an Update from a Hospice Chaplain in Ohio who now volunteers with her Four-Footed Minister, Susie:

On The Wrong Side of the Bed

Susie and I have been volunteering at a hospital in Florida, while visiting there for the winter.  It is truly paradise to be on the water and watch all the wildlife, especially the birds of all kinds.  Considering the weather at home, I am blessed to be in sunny, warm Florida. 

When we arrived in Florida, I went to the local hospital and volunteered to bring Susie as a pet therapy dog.  I had recently retired as a Chaplain, but you never forget those skills and the love for God that overflows.  We were welcomed and given a tour right away.  Susie and I ministered there for several months before returning home. 

While in Florida, I had an unexpected gall bladder attack which required removal of my gall bladder.  I was in pain and felt sorry for myself.  I was on the wrong side of the bed, not used to being in the bed but at the bedside.  I was in a strange hospital and feeling alone, although I had friends who were extremely good to me and took care of Susie.  I wanted my four legged minister, Susie, to be with me.  I missed her so much.  I asked the nurse if Susie could come in to see me and explained her role as a therapy dog.  The nurse checked and said she could come in.  When my daughter arrived she was able to bring her in to see me.  Susie came in walking beside my daughter, and when she saw me her tail started wagging, but she stayed in her role and was lifted on to the bed beside me where she lay quietly giving me gentle doggie kisses.  I felt so comforted by her closeness and felt healing energy coming from her.  I snuggled with Susie for a long time before getting tired. 

My daughter told me later Susie was “transformed” when she put on her therapy dog scarf and she was calm and the model citizen.   She walked into the hospital like she belonged there and when she saw me, she instinctively knew something was wrong but happy to see me.  Susie always brings joy into my life.  She is truly a four legged minister.

We are home now and will soon start volunteering again.   Susie and I miss doing our special ministry together and look forward to each time we are able to minister.

M and Susie

More Updates—Transitions in Chicago for Rev. Tanya

Here is the latest from Rev. Dr. (Yeah Team!) Tanya and Bella

"Life has been super crazy over the last few weeks as I try to wrap up this part of my journey and prepare for the next. 

Over the last month I left the Chicago Temple, finished my dissertation, Bela and I traveled to NJ to be with my nephews and to welcome my niece into the world. I defended my dissertation- YAY!, and went to Nashville to find housing, a car, and set up a few needed things for Bela. It’s been a whirlwind. In the midst of all of that my boyfriend of 1.5 years and I broke up and I am trying to grieve leaving a city I love and beginning a new ministry in a new place. It’s a lot, and I continue to know that God is indeed moving in and through all of these changes and that God journeys with me. I know that I am called to take the job in Nashville and I am super excited about the possibilities although sad to see this part of my journey end. 
Bela is doing well. We start her 5th training course,  a course designed specifically for teams interested in therapy work- we’ll see how we do :). Keep us in your prayers as I am still looking for a trainer in the Nashville area and the Pet Partner contacts in that area are limited. I originally thought we would return to Chicago at least twice a month to continue our training and to be with my boyfirend Ryan- but now it seems we are truly leaving everything in this city behind as we journey to the next land. I know that God will continue to use us- I’m just uncertain how. One of my hopes is that Bela and I will be able to do some work at the Ronald McDonald House that is close to my office- so I am committed to continue working with her and moving towards certification/registration. We shall see :) Although Bela can’t come to work with me on a regular basis she will be able to make occasional visits, and I hope to bring her with me on all my travels when possible. Part of my job includes a requirement for 4 hours of community service a month- so I intend to participate in a ministry with Bela. 
The good news is that when I was in Nashville I picked out a Doggy Day care, found a vet, and visited an agility course that she’ll be able to take in September. Now I continue my search for a trainer and a dog walker ;). I still believe it will all come together.”
Keep Rev. Dr. Tanya and Bella in your prayers. 
Blessings and thanx for the update, Rev. Dr. Tanya!
Dr. Jerilyn E. Felton
May 2

My Colleague has Transitioned

Alya here with some sad news to report.

I found out in April that my dear sister (we were always called “sisters” because we looked so much alike) has passed away. Caterina passed away on April 9th. Mom’s ministry partner is very sad at the passing of her best buddy and our first Four-Footed Minister. Thank you for your healing prayers for us.

I must also report that I am cutting back on my ministry commitments. An aging back and gastric problems caused us (Mom and me) to suspend our visitations to Maryville Nursing Home, effective at the end of May. So many people want us to visit to offer comfort and care, but all the walking (between one and two hours on my paws) is just not possible as I am almost 13 years-old (people years) and I can no longer tolerate extensive time on those aging feet. 

Thank you so very much for your support of dog ministry. Please know that Mom is always available to take your inquiries and questions. Please also note she changed her email address. Her new address is:

If you have her old address of “” please discard it.

Blessings to you all!


Alya, Four-Footed Minister, here. Mom decided to let me upload some “selfies” that let you all see that ministers love to get out and “re-create” themselves because self-care is an important part of ministry.

Because I don’t have thumbs (drat, though dew claws can often can function as such), I had help from Mom who did the typing and my good buddy at Lazy Dog, Crazy Dog, Bel. Bel actually snapped the pictures you see here and did an AWESOME job capturing my best side.

Blessings and remember to take time to “re-create,” doing whatever gets you in touch with God who is constantly delighting in His creation.


Mar 8

Appropriate Addition for Lent

Faithful Readers:

If you happened to purchase my training manual on dog ministry (see link below), you will notice that I have included examples of the dog-ministry prayer-group gatherings that made up the Maryville study. In the 2013 publication of a new Pet Partners’ Student Manual, there was greater emphasis placed on hand-washing to insure that everyone who interacts with the dog team is safe. 

In discussing this additional emphasis on sanitation with a colleague, I was at a loss of how I might incorporate this into our group gathering without breaking the prayerful atmosphere we had created. The solution suggested by my colleague was to pray Psalm 51 out loud. Thus, before the concluding prayer, I pray verses 3 and 4 from Psalm 51 and have my attendees repeat the segments of these verses after me as I go around the room providing them with a dab of hand-sanitizer. This is a great and unobtrusive way to help all my elder attendees to get their hands clean and ask for God’s forgiveness.

The training manual for dog ministry can be found at:

ISBN: 978-1-4759-7208-5 (print copy)

ISBN: 978-1-4759-72092 (eBook format)

Thanx for your support of Dog Ministry.

Dr. J and Alya

The latest pictures from Rev. Tanya and Bella.

It just goes to show you how much a good belly rub is appreciated by our Four-Footed Minister!

Blessings on your life journey.

Update on a Four-Footed Minister in Training

Below is an update from Rev. Tanya and her Four-Footed Minister in Training. Pictures to follow—
Bela is now 8 months old and while she’s demonstrating adolescent behavior at home (she refuses to come out of her crate when I have her harness in my hand), she continues to do very well while at work and school. Her trainer is very please with her behavior. We are halfway through with our 3rd puppy training course, and we have signed up for our 4th class which will begin in March.  She’s working on her down stays, increasing duration and distance.
She did beautifully on the train today- keeping her down for most of the 40-minute train ride. Along the way we met a lawyer who had a lot of questions about therapy work, training, and certification/registration. We had a lovely chat while Bela practiced her “down stay.” It was a lovely train ride.
When we got to the church Bela went immediately to the security guard stand to look for her favorite security guard and did a nice sit while being loved on. Next, we headed to the second floor and the church offices. Bela was greeted by staff and by a group of college students who had just arrived at the church for the afternoon tour. Bela did extremely well as the students took turns petting her and loving on her.
We are now settling in to our work in my office. Bela is playing (currently maneuvering a treat ball to get her lunch) and I am organizing my thoughts and to-do list. It continues to be a pleasure and a joy to share Bela with others. She truly is a gift and despite her adolescent behavior and she continues to bring joy to the many people she meets. We appreciate your prayers as we continue the training process. It takes lots of work, practice, and patience (both on mine and Bela’s part- she often gets impatient with me :) ). 
Grace and Peace,
Rev. Tanya and Bella 
Feb 5

Conclusion-Child’s Play for Elders in an Assisted-Living Facility


            This brief exploration of several strategies discussed in Siegel and Payne Bryson’s book on parenting, has demonstrated that the spiritual/pastoral-care provider can effectively utilize several of their techniques in spiritual/pastoral care, though they must be reframed for an assisted-living elder population. Using dog-ministry prayer-group gatherings as a structure for spiritual encounters enables the members of this population to tell their stories in a supportive and spiritual context. With these valuable additions to the tool kit, the spiritual/pastoral-care provider can more effectively go about their holy work of demonstrating God’s compassionate care to the least of those in the Kingdom, thus, fulfilling their mission.  


Dr. J and Alya

Feb 5

Child’s Play for Elders in Assisted-Living Facilities - Strategy

“Remember to Remember”

            Siegel and Payne Bryson offer a wonderful discussion prior to launching into this strategy, that concerns the different types of memories that need to be integrated by the brain through the “search engine,” the hippocampus.[1] Life experiences are actually encoded as a series of associations rather than filed away as one might file a paper document. Moreover, the state of mind when you encode these memory associations and the state of mind when you attempt to access it, change that memory.[2] The authors explain how those activities that we perform without thinking are encoded in the brain in a way that we do not have to consciously think about the process when we need to perform it—we just do it. These are termed implicit memories. When we recall a specific event that is part of a routinely performed activity, this is termed an explicit memory.[3] The author explains how she helped her son explore his fear by using “narrative to help his implicit memories become explicit and full of meaning.”[4]  The spiritual/pastoral-care provider through sacred story can help the elder to integrate both types of memories to make sense of their own life story.

            In this particular strategy, it is suggested that a parent use various ways to have the child remember the daily events of their lives, for “like so many functions, the more we exercise it, the stronger it becomes.”[5] Siegel and Payne Bryson suggest writing a journal; an activity that science has confirmed will “improve immune and heart function, as well as general well-being.”[6] This also works with assisted-living elders but journal “writing” looks different with this population.

            In an article written by Father Dn Thomas Johnson-Midland, CSJ, OSL, he explores the issue of “remembering to remember” to help an institutionalized elder to not only connect to a community but also to reflect and remember through daily prayer, either heard over a loud speaker or read to them. Further, he wishes to raise awareness of the elder’s challenges in an institution when he states:

Any man or woman may worship in the same manner for 80 or 90 years. Can you imagine the abrupt chasm that is formed when they are isolated from their communities of faith and worship? Not only does it remove certain forms of prayer and music from their lives (other soulful items) it takes them away from a community with similar core values and drives. [7]

We take a step to create community in our weekly dog-ministry prayer-group gatherings. Because so many of our attendees in our dog-ministry prayer-group cannot read due to failing eyesight or memory loss, I provide them with a chance to journal orally through telling their life stories in conjunction with the greater story of God’s love and compassion that we explore in our scriptural/midrash readings.  My Four-Footed Minister and I try to create that sense of community that is open to anyone within the facility who wishes to come share God’s word. We are a gathering of various streams of Christianity who find comfort through hearing familiar scriptures and in telling our stories to each other in a supportive and receptive community.

[1] Ibid., 77.

[2] Ibid., 70.

[3] For discussion, see Siegel and Payne Bryson, 67-76.

[4] Ibid., 76.

[5] Ibid., 83.

[6] Ibid., 84.

[7] Father Dn Thomas Johnson-Midland, “Challenging the Nature of Comfort for the Institutionalized Elderly,” Healing Ministry 20, no. 2, Winter (2014), 38.