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Four-Footed Ministers in Formation: The Four-Footed Ministers Pastoral-Care Program-A Training Manual for Dog Ministry based on the CAM/PS Model

By Dr. Jerilyn Felton

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Having cast again a wide net into cyberspace to see if anything in 'dog ministry' has been attempted since 2005, the author has discovered that there still remains a void in the literature and in practice with regard to an over-arching programmatic and comprehensive integration of a canine companion into ministry to patients/residents in health care settings. Though empirical research has demonstrated possible spiritual benefits from the interactions between elders and dogs, at this point in time, the programmatic and comprehensive ministry with dogs rather than to them remains relatively unexplored. Thus, a study of the current situation should reveal if there exist programs that use dogs in ministry and why there has been little programmatic and comprehensive implementation of canine-assisted ministry in health care settings industry wide. Hopefully this will point to a possible solution.
The author has been involved in the problem of the programmatic and comprehensive use of dogs in ministry to elders over a 12-year period and has published articles and a textbook on this topic. Over this course of time, it has become evident that a programmatic and comprehensive program standardizing the use of dogs in ministry is needed. A formal program of formation for dog ministerial teams would enable chaplains in health care settings to set up, launch and maintain a proven, safe, effective and repeatable program for 'Dog Ministry' in their facility. A training manual on such a program would provide a valuable resource for chaplains in health care settings and thus, the print-based artifact (see Appendix) is an attempt to define and delineate such a program.
Section 2 defines many of the other solutions possible to the perceived problem of ministry with dogs rather than to them. The Humane Society of America has accomplished 'ministry to the dogs' through their establishment of shelters, educational centers, community education, and volunteer opportunities, providing an online handbook about the topic . The Society appears to have nothing on 'ministry with dogs', however. Thus, other solutions to perceived problem of 'ministry with dogs' discussed in Section 2 begin with informal interactions initiated by individual spiritual care providers and regional programs that present a limited form of 'dog ministry' to elders. On the other end of the spectrum, this study discusses the denominational, negative response to the notion that dogs can indeed become ministerial partners for their human counterparts. Theological and biblical explorations of hidden streams of Christian thought will be discussed at length and the author will attempt to recover those perspectives that more closely resonate with today's worldview on creatures' relationship to their Creator. Such a discussion should stimulate further fruitful theological reflection within Christian circles on the place of dogs/animals in ministry. It will then become evident that a comprehensive program that is proven, safe, effective and repeatable provides a better solution that will, in the over-all assessment, result in better spiritual/pastoral care for the intended person.
In overcoming 'possible denominational disapproval' of the use of dogs in ministry, the author asserts in Section 3 that the comprehensive program defined and executed that is described in the Appendix, will enable health care facilities to take the risk of implementing the use of dogs in ministry. The potential holistic benefits to all parties involved will be discussed as well as potential problem areas in both the physical and spiritual realms for both the individual and faith community.
Section 4 will discuss the research study undertaken to define the Four-Footed Ministers Pastoral Care Program. In this discussion, this Program will be shown to be:
1. Proven because it is based data collected over a 9-month study at Maryville Nursing Home in Beaverton, Oregon supporting the claim that this program has indeed provided an effective method for using dogs in ministry to long-term care residents;
2. Safe because it is based on empirical research highlighting the beneficial interactions with pets that outweighs the burden of possible contamination;
3. Effective in recognizing that the methodology of spiritual/pastoral care differs from that of other empirical research projects where the use of 'stories' is treated as mere 'anecdotal' evidence not worthy of serious consideration. Here 'stories' will provide the basis for assessment of success;
4. Repeatable because the program will standardize and formalize providing a template of the basic components for setting up a Four-Footed Ministers Pastoral Care Program within a health care facility.
'Dog Ministry' has received positive comments every time it has been proposed. While it is acknowledged that there are many ministers do use their dogs informally in visiting patients/residents or that there are volunteers who participate in a 'limited' program of visitation, as mentioned, the problem appears to be that currently there does not exist a comprehensive program for spiritual/pastoral care visits with dogs in health care facilities. The Artifact presented in the Appendix formalizes and systematizes a comprehensive program insuring that spiritual/pastoral care volunteer and professional teams have effective guidelines for action in a proven, safe, effective and repeatable manner.
The Artifact consists of an approximately 60-page manual for setting up, launching and maintaining a volunteer-based spiritual/ pastoral care program for 'dog ministry' based on The CAM/PS (Canine-Assisted Ministry/Pastoral and Spiritual Care) Model. Building on the strong attachment to pet(s) that elders have built up over a lifetime, chaplains in health care facility will be able to use the training manual to incorporate the FFMPC Program into their own facility. Using this program as a template for spiritual/pastoral care, chaplains will be able to modify and change the program to meet their unique situation. Thus, the goal of presenting this comprehensive program is to open the door to further discussion and research in the field of spiritual/pastoral care because 'Dog Ministry' is in its infancy. Those involved in this project sincerely hope that others will join them on the quest to provide better spiritual/pastoral care to those who cannot do for themselves but enjoy the company of both two-legged and four-legged travelers on the road to God.


The Humane Society of the United States. "Animal Protection Ministries: A Guide for Churches." edited by The Humane Society of the United States. Washington, D. C.: The Humane Society of the United States, 2010.

Date 2012
Pages 255
Location of Publication Portland, Oregon, USA
Department George Fox Evangelical Seminary
Degree Doctor of Ministry
Language English
Author Address 3825 S E 80th Avenue, Apt. 120, Portland, OR 97206
University George Fox Evangelical Seminary-George Fox University
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Animal-assisted therapies
  2. Animal roles
  3. Animals in culture
  4. Animal visitation programs
  5. Dogs
  6. Mammals
  7. Pets and companion animals