Everyone’s Best FriendPulaski Heights's therapy dog ministry brings people closer to Christ

Everyone’s Best Friend
Pulaski Heights's therapy dog ministry brings people closer to Christ

When the idea for a therapy dog ministry came to Pulaski Heights United Methodist Church, it took the church completely by surprise.

“None of this was planned; we just called it a God thing when it happened,” said Gayle Fiser, the volunteer Outreach Coordinator for Therapy Dogs International Chapter 255 of Arkansas.

Gayle’s husband Paul – a retired math teacher from the Little Rock School District – was out shopping one day, more than 11 years ago, when he happened to run into a former colleague whom he hadn’t seen in a decade. The friend mentioned that she was now doing therapy dog training, and if Paul ever wanted to get his dogs certified as therapy dogs, then she could help train them. The Fisers had recently purchased two Cavalier King Charles Spaniel puppies.

A week later, Gayle was in a meeting with the Rev. Betsy Singleton Snyder, who at the time was serving as a pastor at Quapaw Quarter UMC in Little Rock, where Gayle attended church.

The two were discussing a church member whose dog had recently died and how the church was able to make a pet food donation in the dog’s name to someone who needed help buying pet food.

Dianne Hocut (left) with her dog Bart, a Yorkie and the smallest therapy dog in the group, and Stacey Hightower, Hospitality Coordinator & Welcoming Assistant at PHUMC (right).

“I had mentioned how much I loved that we were able to do that for someone through our pet food ministry,” Gayle said. “And then Betsy said ‘oh, speaking of dogs, I was in a meeting last week and someone had mentioned that it would be great if we could get our dogs certified to be therapy dogs so we could go visit the nursing homes around here,’

“And I said, ‘I can make that happen.’”

Soon after, the church began offering certification training for therapy dogs through Therapy Dogs International, one of many organizations that helps to train and certify dogs worldwide. Gayle’s Spaniel puppies were two of the first dogs to go through the Quapaw Quarter therapy dog training.

A few years – and a few appointments – later, Singleton Snyder was serving at Pulaski Heights United Methodist Church when the idea for a therapy dog ministry came up once again.

This time, she knew exactly who to ask for help.

“That was one of the first things I wanted to do when I got here,” Singleton Snyder said. “I called up Gayle and said ‘I know we want to do therapy dogs here. Would you be willing to help?’”

Gayle, of course, said yes.

Training to be a Therapy Dog

The first step for a dog to become a therapy dog is to receive certification through Therapy Dogs International.

Therapy Dogs International (TDI) was founded in New Jersey in 1976, with the exclusive goal of training dogs and their handlers to be beacons of comfort for nursing homes, hospitals, or any other area where a therapy animal is needed.

There are no specific breed requirements for a dog to be certified as a therapy dog, and dogs from all different backgrounds – both purebreds with pedigrees and rescue dogs from shelters – can go through the certification training.

“The only requirement is that they are not aggressive dogs and they have to be at least one year old,” Gayle said.

During the spring and fall, dogs and handlers who want to go through the therapy dog certification training can come to the Pulaski Heights UMC campus on Woodlawn Drive in Little Rock for a 7-week course, led by a professional dog trainer. The dogs are trained in the church gym and classes are free for anyone who wishes to go through the training.

After completing the training, the dogs receive an ID badge and a bandanna that they wear to let people know they have undergone certification training. Handlers also receive a necklace with an identifying badge. The dogs are TDI certified dogs and aren’t specifically stationed at PHUMC, but can be sent to many different places that need their services, including churches.

Gayle said this type of training is usually hundreds of dollars, but by offering it for free, from a professional trainer that volunteers her time, they can reach more people in the community who want their animals to become certified therapy dogs.

Four-Legged Friends in the Sanctuary

But what role can a dog play in the sacred space of a church service?

“They’re greeters,” Gayle said.

“I think around this time of year – the season of Advent – when we have a lot of guests and people who might feel intimidated by the church, having the dogs greet them at the door makes them feel a little more comfortable.”

Singleton Snyder thinks having animals at church also lets people know they consider dogs a part of the family as well.

“Even your furry family members are welcome,” Singleton Snyder said. “If someone hasn’t been to church in a while or thinks church is a place that you have to segregate some of your family from, like your dog, then they might be surprised seeing all of these dogs greeting them at the entrance to the sanctuary.

Rev. Betsy Singleton Snyder says hello to Flare before worship at the New Heights service.

“We want people to know that their pets are just as valued in God’s creation as people. It sends a signal of welcoming, in a different way.”

Gayle said that the people who have signed up to be greeters at the door aren’t always United Methodists or even Christians.

“They might be Baptists, or they might be Episcopalian or Catholic. We even have people who have been hurt by the church in the past and atheists.

These people don’t always stay for the church service, but they’ll sign up to greet people entering the sanctuary,” Gayle said.

Singleton Snyder thinks she has an idea for why these people are signing up to greet.

“I think the reason they’re coming is that they care about people. They care about animals. They feel like they are doing a service for people. And who’s to say what God is doing with that person?”

Recently, the therapy dogs were present during Pulaski Heights’ Blue Christmas service on Dec. 14. Blue Christmas is a solemn and reflective service for those who have gone through difficult times – whether that be the loss of family, financial burdens or divorce – and feel that joyful Christmas celebrations are a painful experience.

The dogs were able to be at the service and comfort those who simply needed a soft bundle of fur to cry into.

“The dogs understood that people were sad. And when people would pet them or cry into them, they understood that they were there to comfort people,” Gayle said.

The Therapy Dogs are also a big part of the Helping Hands Respite Care Program at Pulaski Heights.

The program — which offers care for seniors with dementia, Alzheimer’s and other care needs — is the perfect place for a dog’s love, according to Helping Hands Coordinator Beverly Villines.

“Many of the friends who attend our Helping Hands Respite Care Program have had dogs of their own and warm up easily to the dogs who come to visit,” Villines said. “When one of them arrives in somewhat of a ‘blue mood’, upon seeing the therapy dog the person visibly changes.

“I believe the therapy dogs have a way of knowing who needs them the most on any given visit.”

Next Steps

For the future of the therapy dog ministry, Gayle and Singleton Snyder have some exciting ideas planned out for 2019.

The United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas – one of the largest United Methodist congregations in the United States – hosts a Leadership Institute every year. Its goal is to bring together church clergy, staff, and volunteers and train them to make disciples of Jesus Christ and strengthen the local church.

Gayle attended the Leadership Institute this year and, after meeting with COR’s pet ministry director, came away from it with fresh ideas on how to expand not only Pulaski Heights’ ministry but COR’s pet ministry, as well.

“They not only have a therapy dog ministry but they do other types of pet outreach as well, like classes teaching children how to behave around pets that they don’t know, and visiting different shelters in the area to see the animals that are housed there.

Pam Turner (right) with her dog Flare and Michelle Justus (left) and her children.

“So when we were together, we just couldn’t talk fast enough about our different ideas for pet ministries,” Gayle said with a laugh.

Gayle has also submitted a proposal to the leadership at COR to potentially teach a pet ministry workshop at the 2019 Leadership Institute.

“This workshop could be related to discipleship, missions or hospitality. Because it’s really all three.”

For Gayle and Rev. Singleton Snyder, the Therapy Dog Ministry isn’t just another job; it’s personal.

“I’ve always had dogs. We have three dogs at our house now. And I was the first person to do animal blessings here in the ‘90s. So finding ways to minister to people with pets was always my vision for ministry. And as time has gone on, it’s become even more clear that our pets are part of our families,” Singleton Snyder said.

Gayle agrees and believes that pets have a lot to teach us.

“I think that because dogs offer unconditional love, they help us model that behavior, and we should be following their example. They are accepting of all people, no matter what” Gayle said. “We have a lot to learn from our dogs.

“I believe there is a lot of healing power in fur.”

UMFA’s New DigsFoundation celebrates opening of new headquarters in West Little Rock

UMFA’s New Digs
Foundation celebrates opening of new headquarters in West Little Rock

In late November 2018, just before the Thanksgiving holiday, the United Methodist Foundation of Arkansas finally moved into their brand new building in West Little Rock.

The new UMFA headquarters – located at 601 Wellington Village Rd. – will serve as the base of operations for the foundation, which manages $165 million in endowment funds and other charitable assets that benefit local Arkansas churches and United Methodist ministries.

The new building is a big improvement over their previous location at 5300 Evergreen Dr., both in terms of square footage and amenities.

The more than 10,000 square-foot building is almost four times as large as the previous headquarters, and features more meeting spaces, a larger reception area, a new training room that seats up to 70 guests, and extra office space to fit new hires if the Foundation chooses to expand its employee numbers in the future.

The Foundation will have its building dedication and open house from 3 to 6 p.m. on Jan. 24. Email hklein@umfa.org or call 501-664-8632 by Jan. 18 if you plan to attend.

A wall in the new UMFA building showcases the numerous Faith Funds articles that have run in the Arkansas United Methodist newspaper and magazine over the years. Photo by Stephen Gideon


The Lusk Training Center — named for John and Becki Lusk of El Dorado who made a $1 million gift to fund the building — is one of the new additions to the UMFA headquarters. This room will be used for training courses, as well as a place to host seminars and other events. It’s furnished with the latest technology, including “power towers” in the floor, which allow guests to plug in their electronic devices for charging. Each tower can charge up to six devices. The room seats around 70 people.
Photo by Stephen Gideon


The main entrance to the new UMFA building showcases a beautiful metal church steeple, reminiscent of many of the United Methodist Churches of old. The quiet space at the waiting area is open and inviting, encouraging calmness and reflection.
Photo by Stephen Gideon


From left to right: Clarence Trice, Senior Vice President & Chief Financial Officer; Janet Marshall, Vice President of Development; Mackey Yokem, Grants Administrator; and Kristin Hartman, Account Manager.
Photo by Stephen Gideon


One of the many meeting rooms located throughout the building.
Photo by Stephen Gideon


A memorial dedicated to James B. Argue Jr., president of UMFA for more than 35 years, hangs on the wall so visitors can read about his legacy.
Photo by Stephen Gideon


The James B. Argue, Jr. Stewardship Center, the official name of the UMFA building, is named after Jim Argue, who served as the CEO of UMFA for more than 35 years. Argue passed away in May 2018 due to health complications.
Photo by Stephen Gideon


An old sign from the original UMFA building sits inside the new building as a reminder of the journey the foundation has taken since its beginning in 1963.
Photo by Stephen Gideon


The reception area of the new UMFA building.
Photo by Stephen Gideon

We won’t be left in the dust

Caleb Hennington, Digital Content Editor

The six months that I’ve spent working for the Arkansas Conference have felt like an entire year.

Not because my team and I have been slacking off, merely coasting through the summer months into the fall; it’s quite the opposite.

Since taking over this position in mid-June, the Arkansas Conference has undergone a lot of change and growth.

In early August, our team, led by Hendrix College senior Jacob Turner, gave the arumc.org website a much-needed facelift; updating the design of the site as well as making it mobile-friendly for the thousands of people who now access Conference information on their phones rather than their computers.

Not long after that, we relaunched the Arkansas United Methodist newspaper into the Arkansas United Methodist: Living Our Faith digital magazine, switching from a print-first publication into a digital-first endeavor.

As you might have already assumed, this was my favorite thing we accomplished this year.

Journalism is my passion.

It’s why I chose to spend four years of college at Arkansas State University learning the tools of the trade, and it’s why I spent the limited free time I had working for the school’s newspaper, The Herald.

Running a publication isn’t the easiest task to take on these days. Not only has certain inflammatory rhetoric made it harder than ever to gain the public’s trust, but with the advancement of the internet — and the rate at which information travels in the modern age — it’s difficult to gain people’s attention as well.

With information so freely accessed and readily available at the click of a button, it’s no wonder why many well-established publications have had to rethink the way they disperse information to the public.

You can even see this change in many of the publications here in the Natural State.

The Arkansas Times, the most well-known free alt-weekly in the state, recently switched its publication strategy to focus on digital journalism, ending its longtime weekly printing schedule and changing to a monthly publication.

Even the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette has undergone significant changes this past year, upgrading its website to be easier to read on mobile devices and focusing its sales tactics on special deals for digital-only subscriptions.

And just this month, Arkansas Life — which has been free since its launch in 2008 — is asking people to pay for subscriptions or else the print version will cease to exist.

I say all this to make the point that journalism is not dying; far from it, it has evolved with the technology of the times and figured out new ways to reach the most people with the most accurate information available.

The Arkansas United Methodist — although operating on a much smaller scale with a more specific audience than other publications in the state — is right there with the others.

We won’t be left in the dust when it comes to getting you the information you need, because we understand that unless you evolve with the changing world, you’ll never grow your audience.

We’re excited this month to be moving our digital publication of the AUM to a new platform: Issuu.

With this new platform, you’ll still have access to the full publication on your desktop computer, but when you’re on your phone or tablet, the stories will fit your screen perfectly for easy reading.

No more pinching and zooming to read the text.

This new digital platform is just the next step toward meeting our goal of providing you the resources you need and sharing stories of the good work being done in our Conference every day.

Happy New Year, and let’s make 2019 just as amazing as 2018!

J.J. Galloway named new district superintendent of Southwest District
Southwest DS Rodney Steele to retire this year

J.J. Galloway, new district superintendent of the Southwest District

The Arkansas Conference of the United Methodist Church announced today that current Northeast District Superintendent Johnna J. Galloway will be the new DS of the Southwest District, beginning July 1, 2019.

Galloway, who has served as the Northeast district superintendent since 2016, is excited about the opportunity to serve in an area she called home for many years.

“I am very grateful and at the same time, humbled to be appointed by Bishop Mueller to the Southwest District as District Superintendent/Chief Mission Strategist,” Galloway said. “In accepting this new appointment, I return to the district of my birth and one where I have been greatly blessed to serve congregations. I return to this mission field full of hope for the future and zeal for walking beside the people of the Southwest District as together we work hard to make disciples of Jesus Christ, who make disciples equipped to transform lives, communities, and the world.”

Galloway will take over for the Rev. Rodney Steele, who is retiring this year after serving as the Southwest district superintendent since 2015. Before serving as the Southwest District DS, Steele was DS for the former North Central District from 2005 – 2011.

Steele has confidence that Galloway will be able to effectively lead the District thanks to her Spirit, energy and focus.

In the meantime, Steele is looking forward to his retirement but has no plans to stop ministering to others anytime soon.

“In 45 years of ministry, I’ve been blessed to see the power of Christ all over the world and in multiple areas of church life,” Steele said. “Now, I’m looking forward to new mission fields as I feel led by God to use photography to help show everyone the presence of God in Creation and in their lives; especially with folks who haven’t been a part of the life of the church.”

Bishop Gary Mueller selected Galloway for the position due to her ability to closely connect with others in the Conference.

“I have come to deeply value J.J.’s leadership on the appointive cabinet these past years. She has connected with laity and clergy, helped churches to engage the communities around them, and has a heart for small membership churches. Her prior experience in the southwest district makes her a natural choice to serve as the chief mission strategists and district superintendent,” Mueller said.

Pastors from local churches in the Southwest District are eager to see what Galloway will bring to the office, and are certain she has the skills needed to lead the district.

“Rev. Steele did a fantastic job and we look forward to working with Rev. Galloway as we continue to make new disciples of Jesus Christ in Arkansas.” said the Rev. William Cato, senior pastor at Arkadelphia First United Methodist Church.

“Moreover, from what I know of Rev. Galloway, she most certainly has the gifts and graces that are needed for this leadership position. We will pray for her and do our best to support her, and I know she will do the same for all of the churches in our District.”

Galloway will take over the position shortly after Annual Conference 2019.

The Southwest District stretches from Texarkana in the Southwest corner of Arkansas to Hot Springs in the North, El Dorado in the East and De Queen in the West. There are more than 150 United Methodist Churches in the Southwest District of the Arkansas Conference.

Learning to give sacrificially through tithing

Photo by Jordan Rowland on Unsplash

Tithing. It’s one of those core Christian tenets that, purposefully or not, often gets forgotten by followers of Christ.

Maybe it’s because, as humans born with naturally sinful inclinations, we would rather keep our money to ourselves. It’s just easier to be selfish and take care of your own needs and your family, right? Why give money to the church?

You might be surprised to find out that John Wesley, founder of the Methodist movement, actually kind of agrees with that sentiment (to a certain extent)!
In Sermon 50, titled “The Use of Money,” Wesley lays out the foundation of teaching regarding money in the United Methodist Church. According to Wesley, Methodists should strive to “Gain all you can…save all you can…give all you can.”

Many times, Christians are great at gaining all they can and saving all they can; it’s that third part of Wesley’s sermon that seems to be the most difficult to put into practice.

There are countless verses in the Bible about wisely using the riches that you possess. One of the first instances of giving back to God that which we have received comes from Genesis 28:10-22, in which Jacob falls asleep and dreams that God visits him at the top of a stairway to Heaven. God promises to give Jacob and his descendants “the land on which you are lying” and that his descendants will “be like the dust of the earth.”

After waking, Jacob promises always to give back to God a tenth of the blessings he’s received from the Lord. This verse is, of course, where we get the idea of giving one-tenth of our Earthly earnings back to God.

However, tithing isn’t a fixed rate. It doesn’t mean that you are always required to give back one-tenth of your earnings; no more, no less.

The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church emphasizes that church leaders should “find creative ways to turn their congregations into tithing congregations with an attitude of generosity.” (¶258.4)

It also states that tithing is defined as “the minimum goal of giving,” and never outright says a specific number or amount is considered an official tithe to the church. (¶630.5)

One of the most beautiful instances in the Bible of giving as much as you can give is the widow’s offering, from Mark 12:41-44. You probably already know this verse by heart, but I’ll recount it just to make sure.

In these verses, Jesus is sitting and observing people bringing offerings into the temple treasury. He sees lots of wealthy individuals bringing in large sums of money and tossing them into the collection receptacles.

But then, Jesus observes a poor widow giving all that she has; just two small coins.

Je sus turns to his disciples and says “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything – all she had to live on.”

Jesus’ purpose in pointing this out to his disciples is to show them that what’s important is not how much you give, but that you give sacrificially with a heart that is full of generosity.

Tithing isn’t just a way for the church to collect money from members; it’s an essential part of the Christian faith. It teaches believers how to be generous with the blessings they have received and to give those gifts back to God.

T his month provides some fantastic opportunities to give back to both your church and community. Whether it’s special Advent or Christmas tithe collections or charitable donations to causes that your church supports, make sure to approach your giving with a joyful heart.

Tithing is an act of sacrificial worship. It’s not always easy to give, but by giving, it provides others with more opportunities which will further the Kingdom of God on Earth.