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Text by Ann Haffte n Photos by Mark Graham


olly and Shelby are a couple of dogs who have found their vocations and a Lutheran community to support and encourage them—together with their

human teammates. A few times each year the sanctuary of Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, Garland, Texas, fills up with animals and their human companions. Many aren’t members of Gloria Dei—the humans that is. Most of the animals are dogs, but some cats and rabbits are present. It’s a com- missioning service for Pet Partners who have completed training for service in the community.

Each Pet Partner team—a human and animal—works to make a difference in schools and counseling centers. They even work in courtrooms, where dogs help calm or comfort children whose testimony is necessary. The Pet Partners organization trains and evaluates both humans and animals ( The “top dog” at Gloria Dei is Dolly.

In 1980, Carolyn Marr introduced therapy animals to her work as director of rehabilitation at the state psychi- atric hospital in Terrell, Texas. When she retired, Marr wanted to work with a Pet Partner of her own. She chose Dolly, a long-haired Chihuahua.

Hafften is a writer, editor and member of Messiah Lutheran Church in Weatherford, Texas.

“The dog must be suitable, with the right temperament, basic aptitude and tolerance for various situations,” Marr said. Dolly has what it takes. Dolly’s was the first commissioning of a Pet Partner at Gloria Dei. The congregation’s pastor, Chuck Hubbard, spontaneously suggested it during the announcements: “We should commis- sion and bless Dolly as she begins this very important work.”

30 The Lutheran •

Meet Dolly and Shelby—dogs with a vocation


Dolly, a reading therapy dog, looks on as Dylin Evertson reads at Hillside Academy Elementary School. Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, Garland, Texas, became headquarters for Pet Partners after member Carolyn Marr’s dog, Dolly, was commissioned there.

Marr explained, “Some church members had helped with Dolly’s socializing exercises, and Pastor Hubbard told the congregation that Dolly and I had completed our team evaluation.”

For the commissioning, Dolly, dressed in pink, took part in the children’s sermon and the choir dedicated an anthem to her service. Hubbard put the little Pet Partner vest on Dolly and prayed over her: “We lift Dolly before you, Lord, asking that as a result of gentle encounters with her, people might experience healing and comfort—as well as encouragement for facing both life and death.”

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