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PHOENIX, ARIZONA, USA — The ministry of Terri and Paul Carruthers went to the dogs in 1993. And hundreds of people have benefited since. Terri and her husband, Paul, are appointed Assemblies of God U.S. missionary chaplains. She became certified in pet therapy 23 years ago. Every week they bring Mr. Bandit and Lil’ Bit to hospital floors to boost the morale of patients, family members, and staff.
“Dogs lift spirits and help people forget about their problems, even if for just a few minutes,” Terri says. “They can extend tender loving care in a unique way.” Indeed, Lil’ Bit, dubbed a “100 percent super mutt” because of her less than purebred terrier pedigree, is the veteran at 16 years of age. Mr. Bandit, a Chihuahua mix, has been at it for three years. They make regular visits to the kidney dialysis and cancer floors of Banner University Medical Center in Phoenix. The dogs, under Terri and Paul's skillful tutelage, make people laugh and smile, thereby alleviating stress. Terri lays down a pillowcase on a patient’s bed and the well-groomed Mr. Bandit or Lil’ Bit soon are snuggling. Often the ill person begins pouring out troubles directly to the pooch.
“Loneliness can be the worst experience,” Terri says. “Many patients have family members who are not able to visit.” “People enjoy seeing a dog when they are sick, lonely, afraid, and sad,” Paul says. The visits typically are brief, not exceeding 10 minutes, ending with Terri and Paul subtly pointing the infirm to the Lord. In addition to visiting with patients in their rooms, Paul and Terri’s duties range from holding Sunday worship services to conducting funerals.
When they go on more relaxed rehabilitation visits on Saturdays, the dogs actually can help reward patients involved in therapy. For instance, people in a wheelchair will get to pet a dog if they reach a certain point in their exercises. The dogs also make weekly rounds at the Grand Canyon chapter of the American Red Cross. In all, Terri has used four therapy dogs over the years. Whiskers Louise and Lady Lace have passed on. Except for Mr. Bandit, the dogs have all been rescued from an animal shelter.
The volunteer pet therapy is only a sliver of what they do. Their foundational ministry involves Native Americans living at the Caring House on the Gila River Indian Reservation in Sacaton, Arizona. The 90 residents represent many tribes. The U.S. missionaries also serve the 120-bed Phoenix Indian Medical Center where those from tribes in five states come for medical care and treatment.
Paul and Terri have been married for 43 years and serving as U.S. Missionary chaplains since 1980.
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