ENGLEWOOD — Bob and Tracy Miller are looking for a few Christian dog owners to visit nursing homes, veterans, the homeless and children through a new local nonprofit, Canines for Christ.
The pair, who live in Manasota Key and Texas, are part of the program in San Antonio. After COVID-19 hit, they spent more time in Florida. Tracy became a personal trainer at the Englewood YMCA and Bob, a professor in Texas, learned more about the local area. They decided a Canines for Christ chapter would work here.
“I started taking my 8-year-old Shih Tzu Charlie Brown to Indian Mound Park in Englewood to talk to the homeless,” Bob said.
“At first they didn’t want to talk because they don’t trust you. They see the Texas license plate and think you might be law enforcement. But then after a while, you get to talking and you learn their needs and how they became homeless and sometimes they welcome you to pray with them or just talk about Jesus,” he said. “Sometimes they just want a hug.”
Canines for Christ is an international Christian-based, animal-assisted therapy ministry. Through the ministry, ordinary people and their beloved dogs to share God’s message of love, hope, kindness, and compassion to the community. The group’s mission is to let Christ’s love shine through owners and their canines.
“We want them to know that God loves them,” Bob said. “Sometimes people just need a person to be a good listener. One man admitted he was raped earlier in life and using drugs to cope. Another person was homeless and suffering seizures.
“Sometimes you have to put your psychology hat to help,” Bob said. “In Texas, we would do under the bridge ministries for the homeless. They would pet the dogs and we would tell them about Christ.”
Bob said not everyone will want to be part of the homeless outreach team. It’s fine because the couple says there might be something for other pet lovers including children’s programs, nursing home visits or veterans groups.
“If we can get into a classroom where children have reading anxieties or problems doing math and let them read to the dogs or complete their math pages with the dog in the room, it’s a real help to build the child’s confidence,” Bob said. “We can share a very brief message about Christ being the creator of pets and people and how he loves us all.”
Bob said it’s amazing how seniors in nursing homes, memory care, long-term care center or hospital respond when a little dog visits. The patient perks up and pets the animal. The volunteer is trained on how to the dog should approach someone in a wheelchair and how to put the animal on the person’s lap.
“A lot of people had pets before they had to move into a nursing home, it does them so good to see a pet again,” Bob said. “I’ve sat at the Dunkin’ Donuts near Dearborn Street with my dog and have had wonderful encounters with people. They love dogs. Most don’t mind hearing a quick message about Jesus.”
Some qualifications for the new local nonprofit include having a pet health certificate completed by a veterinarian before doing any visitations. The dog must be a minimum of 6 months old.
Bob said Charlie Brown was certified at 8 years old. “Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks?” Bob said.
Participants must have a AKC Canine Good Citizen Certification or approved therapy dog certification. The owner must submit a picture of their dog for business cards.
“Yes, each dog has its own business cards for the owner to give out while visiting with their pet,” Bob said. “People love it.
The owner must also agree to wear the T-shirt, ID tags, and provide an approved vest and patch for the dog. These are not therapy or rescue dogs. “These are friendly dogs that like older people, children and are not aggressive or hyper,” he said.
“It should be a dog that loves to be pet by strangers. Not everyone who signs up will become a volunteer. Sometimes a dog isn’t a perfect fit for this ministry, but the ones who are really help make a difference along with their owners because when they share the message that Jesus loves them it could really help.
“I worked with a man who talked about taking his life several times,” Bob said. “I kept telling him God loves him and he mattered. He needed someone to take him seriously, and I did.”
For more information, call 512-944-6824.