This translation is not completely accurate as it was automatically generated by a computer.
A UMNS Feature
By Heather Hahn*
2:00 P.M. EST June 25, 2010 | LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (UMNS)
Katherine Furqueron pats her pooch, Dixie, in her home in Little Rock, Ark.
UMNS photos by Heather Hahn.
View in Photo Gallery
Traveling down an isolated country road toward her mobile home,
75-year-old Katherine Furqueron can count on being eagerly greeted by a
companion at the front door.
Dixie, a tall, floppy-eared pooch with big brown eyes, cannot wait to
welcome Furqueron home, licking her hands and flopping down beside her
on the rug next to the couch in the small, neatly decorated living room.
“She thinks I can’t do any wrong,” Furqueron said, patting Dixie on
the head and rubbing the fur behind her ears. “She appreciates the
things that you do for her.”
Still, she acknowledges that taking care of her faithful companion,
along with herself and an ailing son, on what she receives from Social
Security can be a challenge.
That is where Quapaw Quarter United Methodist Church in Little Rock,
she said, has been a godsend — and a dog blessing. Once a month, church
volunteers distribute bags of dog and cat food along with groceries for
Quapaw Quarter is one of a growing number of United Methodist
churches across the country discovering that one way to help the poor is
to help their four-legged friends. Pet ministries not only set tails
wagging, but also serve pressing human needs for companionship.
And spirituality, said Joe Hirsch, chair of the Hearts & Paws pet
ministry at Christ United Methodist Church in Bethel Park, Pa.
“If you want to see the love of Christ, just look at a pet,” Hirsch
said. “The pet gives you unconditional love the same way Christ does. He
doesn’t care what color you are or how rich or how poor.”
All God’s creatures
Denise Dorton, a member of Quapaw Quarter United Methodist Church,
started the Little Rock ministry after watching images of people along
the Gulf Coast frantically search for their pets in the aftermath of
The news footage made her think about how much she loved her own two cats.
William Swartz pets his cat, Tiger, on his front porch.
“I thought about how awful it would be for my kitties to be without
food for maybe days or weeks,” she said. “Somehow from that, God planted
the idea that there are people here who love their animals, but have
trouble providing even food for them.”
To get the project off the ground, she raised money though a pet
photo contest among pet owners from church. Congregants voted on the
winners by making cash donations.
Since the ministry began in March 2006, more than 450 households have
signed up for pet food. Dorton estimates that she gives out about 75
bags of dog food, 35 bags of cat food and six to eight bags of puppy and
kitten chow each month. She also distributes fliers about monthly free
animal spay/neutering that a local pet rescue group offers for
low-income pet owners.
People often line up to get their pet food before they even get in
line to get their own food, Dorton said. Several of the clients are
William Swartz, 75, cares for his fuzzy terrier-mix Angel, and a
tail-less American bobtail cat named Tiger in the small, clapboard
house. He resides in a once gang-ridden neighborhood in central Little
However, with his pets, his home is always tranquil.
“For a lot of older people, a dog or cat is
the only companion they have. They don’t want to go to a retirement
home unless they can bring their pets.”
–William Swartz, 75
“I think they’re wonderful friends,” he said. “When I’m sitting in my
easy chair watching TV, Angel wants to sit beside me and Tiger on my
lap, and they’ll sniff each others’ noses.”
Swartz said he wishes more churches would offer pet food as part of their food pantries.
“For a lot of older people, a dog or cat is the only companion they
have,” Swartz said. “They don’t want to go to a retirement home unless
they can bring their pets.”
Ministry of caring
Christ United Methodist Church in Pennsylvania goes well beyond
simply providing food. The ministry includes a monthly memorial prayer
service for those who have lost their pets as well as emergency care
when a pet owner needs to go to the hospital.
The church also plays host to an annual pet fair where people can
adopt rescue animals and learn more about caring for animals. The
church’s seventh annual Pet Care Fair will be on June 26.
The ministry has attracted many who are unchurched or spiritual seekers, Hirsch said.
“We are myth busters in some ways,” he said. “People think if we care this much about pets, how much more do you care about me.”
*Hahn is a multimedia news reporter for United Methodist News Service.
News media contact: Heather Hahn, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.