By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger
BETTENDORF — Several dogs and their owners offered pet therapy to open a new pet ministry at St. John Vianney Parish on Jan. 9.
Parishioner Lisa McCool, who started St. Francis of Assisi Pet Ministry, invited Quad Cities Canine Assistance Network (QCCAN) to provide “good feelings and therapy.” She encouraged participants to pet and visit the dogs. McCool discovered the need for pet ministry after doing some research and talked with her pastor, Father Rich Adam, who encouraged her to start the ministry. His dog, Joey Adam, is the official mascot.
The ministry’s mission is to “promote compassion for all God’s creatures and to encourage pet owners and caretakers with love, and to support all who care about animals with prayer and action.” The mission statement’s acronym, CARE, stands for compassion and caring, actively partnering with organizations sharing the vision of how pets enrich people’s lives, reaching out to agencies and organizations, and education.
Compassion and caring
Ideas include a prayer chain, sending sympathy cards to owners who have lost a pet, animal blessing on the Feast of St. Francis, and grief counseling. Among other suggestions are classes to help families decide if they are ready for a pet, therapy dog visits to the homebound, and a service to walk dogs, especially for parishioner pet owners who are elderly or homebound.
McCool said one partnership could be with QCCAN, based in Carbon Cliff, Illinois. Ellen of QCCAN said the organization provides training for therapy dogs and takes therapy dogs on visits to various places. Therapy dogs provide comfort and help reduce or relieve stress for people in schools, nursing homes, libraries and at community events. Despite COVID-19, QCCAN made around 200 visits from March 2021 to December 2021. All visits are by invitation only.
QCCAN’s therapy dog training involves a six-week basic class with learning commands. After passing basic training, a dog and owner can move to advanced classes. Upon completion, the dog is tested to become certified. Ellen said dogs can go through basic training more than once or take time going through the program, as needed. After certification, the owner and dog must attend three events annually and keep up on training.
In response to a question, Ellen said therapy dogs have served grieving families, including during a wake at a funeral home. Visits to homes also occur. She encouraged people to visit qccan.org to learn more.
Additional ideas for partnerships include creating a list of pet friendly businesses, and partnering with other ministries at St. John Vianney.
McCool said the pet ministry program could reach out to organizations such as King’s Harvest Pet Rescue in Davenport, Humane Society of Scott County in Davenport or Quad City Animal Welfare Center in Milan, Illinois. Each organization would welcome volunteers in a variety of positions. Other suggestions for reaching out included a pet fund collection for urgent veterinary care for pets whose owners lack pet insurance and cannot afford an emergency surgery, for instance. Another idea is to collect and distribute pet food to area food pantries. One participant suggested collecting pet food and toys on the birthday of Father Adam’s dog Joey for distribution to shelters.
McCool said several organizations provide education, such as QCCAN, Horses of Course in Blue Grass, AAVENGE, Humane Society and Quad City Animal Welfare. Participants suggested classes on various topics, such as pet anxiety due to fireworks, the puppy mill problem, and helping people to know if they are ready to own and take care of a pet.
Participant Jane Campagna said, “I don’t know of any other church that does this ministry. I am excited about it.” She thinks the pet ministry group can help people recognize the importance of pets in their lives, just as St. Francis set the example for caring for animals.
St. Francis of Assisi Pet Ministry meets the third Thursday of the month, except February, when the meeting is Feb. 24 at 7 p.m. in the activity center. For more information, contact McCool at (563) 340-0071 or email stfrancisatSJV@gmail.com. People from any parish and any faith may attend.