NORTH LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — In recent years, we have seen the trend of therapy dogs growing and growing.
People around the country are getting their dogs trained to help others in ways that sometimes even humans can't do.
Lakewood Methodist Church of North Little Rock is forming a therapy dog team in hopes of impacting the community, but also the dogs' owners.
Cindy Henry, Associate Pastor for the church, said they are forming a pet therapy ministry in partnership with Pet Partners of Central Arkansas, where "man's best friend" can work their magic in more ways than one using that unconditional love.
"Dogs love everyone and they don't see any other layers in people, so it’s just a way for the dogs to lead the person into ministry," she said.
This special gift is why Henry said the church wanted to form a therapy dog team.
"People will do with their dogs what they wouldn't ordinarily do by themselves," she said.
Henry said several people want to be involved in ministry, but don't want to do it on their own. But if their best friend is beside them, all of that changes.
"It allows us to go into the community in a different way and it allows us to incorporate people in the ministry who might not do it alone," she said.
This different way is what Georgann Freasier, a therapy dog handler with Pet Partners of Central Arkansas for over 20 years, described as a one-of-a-kind vehicle for communication and connection.
"Therapy dogs are all about bringing comfort and distraction and joy to people who are maybe in distress," she said.
Freasier said a special resilient quality is what makes therapy dogs different from the rest.
"Can they enjoy people of different ages, sizes, races, genders?" she said.
Henry said this sense of flexibility is why the ministry will spread all across the community, from participating in reading programs at schools to visiting nursing homes.
"It's just endless possibilities," she said.
If you want to see if your dog could qualify as a therapy dog, you can stop by Lakewood Methodist Church of North Little Rock between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 5.
If your dog qualifies, the church will provide the six to eight week training classes and you do not have to be a parishioner at Lakewood to come.