Nov. 17, 2004
Allegra is five-year-old golden retriever who works as a ministry service dog
A UMNS Feature
By Shanta Bryant Gyan*
simple touch brightens the day of many residents living in a nursing
home in southern Maine. But this touch is not a human touch; rather,
it’s a nuzzle or a lick from Allegra, a 5-year-old golden retriever.
a ministry service dog, Allegra’s sole job is showering unconditional
love and attention on people in need. Each month, the Rev. Arlene Tully
takes Allegra to a nursing home where residents can touch, pet and
receive affection from the dog. Allegra also accompanies her owner in
other ministries to the community throughout the week.
her full-time job, and instead of helping one person for a very long
time, Allegra helps lots of people for short periods of time," says
Tully, who started the dog ministry in 2001.
Tully serves as pastor of Randolph United Methodist Church and East Pittston United Methodist Church in southern Maine.
was originally trained as a wheelchair assistance dog with the National
Education for Assistance Dog Services, but the trainers quickly
realized that her fear of noises could create problems later. At the
same time, they recognized that her gentle-natured manner and intuitive
traits could make her useful as a ministry service dog.
"Out of that failure
comes this wonderful new ministry," explains Tully. "As in many of our
lives when we think we have failed … we find it just leads us to a
different place that God intended us to be."
Allegra�s owner, the Rev. Arlene Tulley, takes her to visit nursing home residents.
got the idea to start a dog ministry after a friend who worked in a
nursing home told about taking her dog to work for "Bring Your Pet to
Work Day." The friend noted that one of the more stubborn residents
opened up and became more social and interactive with the dog around.
a way, it’s a social lubricant," Tully says of the dog ministry. "The
dog is able to create an instant rapport with people, and they are
automatically able to connect."
Tully and Allegra visited a Wal-Mart recently, several people
approached the dog and eventually initiated a conversation with Tully.
Upon learning that Allegra was a ministry service dog, she said, people
started sharing stories about their pets as well as good or bad
experiences with churches.
"All of this is because of the dog," Tully says.
of all, Tully says, she appreciates the fact that Allegra demonstrates
unconditional love and acceptance toward everyone with whom she comes
dog doesn’t care about the clothes you’re wearing; she loves everyone. I
wish I could love like that," the Maine pastor says.
And the nursing home residents that Allegra regularly visits love to have her there to pet and share affection.
many of them, it’s the touch that means so much. One nursing home
resident, stroking Allegra’s golden fur, returns the love.
"You’re loving this," the resident says, "and I am — yes, I am!"
*Gyan is a freelance journalist based in the Washington area.
News media contact: Fran Walsh, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5458 or firstname.lastname@example.org.