Content Engagement Specialist
Pinnacle View United Methodist Church’s pet ministry program has created a space of community for pet lovers.
In 2007, Rev. Betsy Singleton Snyder thought of a way to include pets in a new ministry: by offering free therapy dog training available for anyone in the community.
“It was inspired by God and our love of animals,” said Gayle Fiser, Community Pet Ministry Coordinator at Pinnacle View UMC.
Betsy started the Community Pet Ministry in 2007, when she was pastor at Quapaw Quarter United Methodist Church. Since then, Betsy and Gayle have worked together to establish pet ministries in four United Methodist churches, including Pulaski Heights, and assisted two other local churches with their programs.
The Community Pet Ministry program includes four components: Therapy dog training and the new puppy kindergarten; Care and support for pet parents; Pet-focused service projects; and Pet-focused educational programs.
“The goal for therapy dog training is to help dogs and handlers obtain certification as official therapy dogs who can go into the community – assisted living facilities, nursing homes, etc. and share their dog’s love with others,” Gayle said. “Once certified, therapy dogs can participate in church activities, such as Vacation Bible School.”
Therapy dog training, held in the Pinnacle View UMC gym, is an 8-week course open to all non-aggressive dogs at least 1 year old. The training follows the test requirements to obtain therapy dog certification with Therapy Dogs International as well as Canine Good Citizen certification with AKC.
This type of training is usually hundreds of dollars, but by offering it for free, they can reach more people in the community who want their animals to become certified therapy dogs.
In addition to the benefit of training pets, Betsy saw how pets are part of a new definition of family and could be a non-threatening way to bring non-churched but “not-dones,” or non-religious, into the faith community.
Trained therapy dogs are invited to be greeters in worship, but the people who sign up aren’t always United Methodists or even Christians.
70 percent of all US households have at least one pet. Gayle said this statistic made them ask the question, “What would our faith community look like if pets were acknowledged and welcomed?”
“Imagine going to church for the first time, especially at Christmas or Easter, and being greeted by a dog,” said Gayle. “Imagine being a non-religious person whose dog just became an official therapy dog and being invited to greet for worship and have an opportunity to take your dog into the sanctuary!”
While the therapy dog training has been in effect for 15 years, the puppy kindergarten class originated in 2022 when Gaye Richardson, a Pinnacle View UMC member, got her puppy, Bebe. Since Bebe was too young for therapy training, the volunteer therapy dog trainer, Brenda Guillet, offered to teach a free puppy kindergarten class.
Puppy Kindergarten is 4 weeks of socialization, good manners and beginning obedience. It’s open to puppies from 10 weeks to 6 months old.
In addition to trainings, Gayle and Betsy have created a deep-rooted support system for pet parents in all stages.
Members of the Pinnacle View UMC sewing team, led by 95-year-old Mary Harrison, make prayer blankets that are placed on the altar and blessed before being given to parents of new pets, sick pets, or parents grieving the loss of their pet. Each blanket has a special embroidery of a cross, which is embroidered by Deborah Morris.
“These blankets touch a lot of lives in the community as they are given to anyone who has a need,” Gayle said.
Pet-focused service projects which engage all kinds of pet parents in adoption events, pet food collection for Food Pantries, etc. are another big part of the pet ministry.
They also offer educational events to help people become better pet parents by staying informed. These include relevant topics with professional presenters, such as the recent Preventing Separation Anxiety webinar, sponsored by the Arkansas Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Gayle said their goal was to offer unity, and their pet ministry program does just that.
Learn more about Pinnacle View UMC and their training programs here.