With a mission statement of “making a difference in the lives of people who are in need of love, hope, and compassion by using our beloved family dogs to break down the barriers of communication,” who wouldn’t want to get involved? Canines for Christ was founded at a Methodist church out of Florida that funds everything for the organization. While this organization originated in Florida, it is set up to be an independent organization that can flourish in any state.
Co-founder of the Bryan/College Station Canines for Christ chapter, Jocelyn Johnson, explains that this is a therapy dog group that focuses mainly on ministry. “It’s amazing when you go talk to someone who is little harder to get on a personal level with, and have a dog with you. A dog involved in the conversation is so much easier, because people are much more open. It allows some comfort in bad times,” she said.
Wanting to spread the message of Canines for Christ drove Johnson to create a chapter in Bryan/College Station. “We want to help people [train therapy dogs who don’t know how to get started,” Johnson said. Johnson was certified through Canines for Christ about a year ago, and started a chapter here where they have weekly meetings. At these meetings, she helps people train their dogs and answers any questions. The organization also helps in arranging meetings with certain facilities. “Currently we go to nursing homes, St. Joseph’s [Regional Health Center], and the Adults with Disabilities Day Center.”
Because Canines for Christ is an independent organization, you can become certified then take off on your own. You do not have to join an area chapter to serve. For instance, if you are a student and get certified through the Bryan/College Station chapter, you can continue to serve once you graduate and move. Even if you have years left in Aggieland, Johnson said that it is completely up to the person if they want to stay with the chapter group or go off on their own after getting certified.
“People can become certified without joining the Bryan/College Station chapter. The chapter mainly serves as a more organized way to become certified, ask questions, and find facilities to visit.”
As far as a timeline for becoming certified, there is no minimum or maximum time limit. Training can take as short or as long as needed to insure that each dog is ready to handle his or her mission. “We have some that come for five weeks, and they are ready to pass the test; then we have other dogs who train for months and months to get ready to get certified,” Johnson said.
So what’s the first step? Johnson explains that the first meeting includes a mock test to determine what areas of training each dog needs to focus on. Next, the training requirements begin. While Johnson explains that there are not many requirements for certification, among the few are that each canine be able to sit, stay when you leave, and learn not to react nervously to loud noises.
Most importantly, however, is overall temperament and making sure there is no history of aggression. “If your dog already loves people, then we can teach it the more behavioral things,” Johnson said. And as far as the two-legged team members, requirements aim at remembering that this is a ministry. “A lot of people want to take their dog to the store, but we want to make sure that people who are coming are devoted and know that this is a ministry.”
The most powerful thing this organization does is showing that you care. “There are people who you never talk to, but I’ll go in there with a dog, and it’s amazing how many stories you can hear,” Johnson said. “From my experience, people have a whole new willingness to talk with a dog, versus without a dog,” Johnson said. She further explains that she sometimes may never have a conversation with someone, but if she shows some tricks she has taught her dog, it helps them feel more comfortable.
“I taught him how to pray. That usually gets a conversation started such as about church or the organization. Most of this is just showing love and that you care,” Johnson said. The main question Canines for Christ gets asked is, “How do I make this a ministry and not just someone petting my dog?” Johnson’s answer is to, “Show that we are here through Christ, and for each volunteer to make sure your visit is Christ centered.”
For more information about Brazos Valley Canines for Christ visit their Facebook group at www.facebook.com/bvcanines4christ.
article by Ashlea Gutierrez