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Mutt Ministry puts shining light in lives of elderly

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A UMNS file photo by John Gordon

Louise Greenwald and Honey were brought together by the Mutt Ministry.

April 12, 2006

By John Gordon*

FOLEY, Ala. (UMNS) — Louise Greenwald went through many "empty and sad hours" after the death of her second husband last fall.

"He passed away in October," she says of husband Frank Foster, "and it's been quite empty."

But thanks to the Mutt Ministry at a nearby church, the 92-year-old piano teacher now has a new companion — a tiny Chihuahua named Honey.

"This is a real blessing — company, lots of love, and I can cook for him," she says. "He's just been a shining light for me."

Members of Jubilee Shores United Methodist Church, a 500-member congregation in Fairhope, brought together Greenwald and Honey in early March. The Mutt Ministry was started by church member and Foley veterinarian Beth Taylor, who wanted to team up pets from an animal shelter with people who needed companionship.

The results can be seen in Greenwald's shining eyes and Honey's wagging tail.

"It couldn't be any more perfect," Greenwald says. "I'm good to him, and he's good to me."

Taylor started the Mutt Ministry three years ago and places an average of 20 animals each year. After going through some changes in her own life and joining a Bible study group at Jubilee Shores, she decided to use her gifts for helping animals to help people as well.

"We take animals from the shelter and we spay or neuter them, vaccinate them, de-worm them, get them healthy," she explains. "We foster them out for a short period of time, make sure they don't have any bad habits. And then we adopt them out to elderly, disabled, homebound people who could not have a pet without our help."

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS file photo by John Gordon

Clarabelle keeps Margaret Thompson company at the Westminster retirement community in Spanish Fort, Ala.

Taylor and other church members donate bags of food to help feed the pets. If the owners need it, Taylor even offers lifetime veterinary care for the animals.

"A lot of (the owners) are lonely and isolated. And it gives them a reason to get up and get going in the morning," she says.

Taylor says many studies have proven the benefits of having a pet.

"Even the simple act of holding a dog or petting a dog or a cat can lower blood pressure, can lower the heart rate, can calm someone," she says. "We try to let them know it reminds them that God hasn't forgotten them, that he brought them that pet."

The Mutt Ministry has also placed resident pets at several area nursing homes. Clarabelle, a black cat, roams the hallways and visits the rooms at the Westminster Village retirement community in Spanish Fort, Ala.

"She keeps me company," says resident Margaret Thompson. "I get so lonesome, but when I see Clarabelle, I get happy again."

Pam Denham, a Jubilee Shores member and Mutt Ministry volunteer, says Clarabelle offers unconditional love to the residents at the nursing home.

"She is well taken care of," Denham says. "She has 60 residents who are her owners and who are in love with her."

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS file photo by John Gordon

Veterinarian Beth Taylor examines an injured dog at her clinic. Taylor started the Mutt Ministry three years ago.

At first, Taylor got a cool reception from nursing homes when she offered to give them pets. "Most of them said, 'no thank you, no pets allowed,'" she says.

Finally, several agreed to accept resident pets, and the program began expanding. Church members also began taking their own pets for visits.

Taylor has a busy practice, one day juggling her time between making a farm call to deliver a calf and checking an injured dog brought to her clinic. But she says the time she devotes to the Mutt Ministry saves animals that might otherwise be euthanized — and gives new hope to those who need companionship.

"They're a friend that's always there," she says. "They're not going to turn their back on you, they're not going to find a better friend and leave you. They're just a loyal friend that you can depend on."

The strong bond between people and their pets goes back for centuries, Taylor says.

"Animals rarely disappoint us. They're always there to love us, no matter what," she says. "We probably should take more cues from them, as far as forgiveness and love."

*Gordon is a freelance producer and writer based in Marshall, Texas.

News media contact: Fran Coode Walsh, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5458 or

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