Pet therapy program brings smiles, love to those in need
By J.D. Moor
Doris Beardsley, left, and Amberley, visiting Sarah Baker at Plantation South Assisted Living in Dunwoody.
Her leash taut with anticipation and her tail wagging wildly, 3-year-old Amberley pulled her owner into a hallway at the Plantation South Assisted Living home in Dunwoody.
Resident Sarah Baker gingerly maneuvered her walker one step at a time and spotted Amberly. Baker then was all smiles and Amberley was all affection.
“This is the best part of the week for me,” Baker said. “I used to have a Rottweiler I loved. I look forward to this because it’s so special.”
Amberley, a 3-year-old Hungarian bird dog, is certified as a service dog and constant companion to Doris Beardsley, who recently recovered from spinal surgery.
Amberley also is a member of the Pet Therapy Program at St. Martin in the Fields Episcopal Church in Brookhaven, which has trained 72 dogs since 2009, eight of them specializing in visits to three nursing homes. Amberley has already made 17 visits to Plantation South.
Preston Bentley is another Amberley fan who’s been at Plantation South for two years. “I have lots of free time here and she’s a nice break,” he said.
Beardsley actually received a pet-to-people outreach herself before deciding to get involved in the program. Her husband brought Amberley to brighten her day while in a rehab facility that doubled as a retirement home.
“I was there after my back surgery and I remember how during therapy, it helped me emotionally to work harder through the pain,” Beardsley said. “But then the retirees living there wanted to pet her, too, and asked me when Amberley would come back again.”
That was all the motivation Beardsley needed to sign up for the Canine Good Citizenship class at St. Martin’s Pet Ministry. The five-week class trains animals to be obedient and stay calm around strangers, including those in wheelchairs.
Usually dogs with good temperaments do better in passing the 10-step test, but the ministry also offers a basic class for dogs that may not be quite ready to become canine good citizens.
Ingrid Siegert devotes her free time to running the pet ministry whenever she isn’t busy as St. Martin’s music director.
She has her cat, Maggie, living full-time in her church office, plus two dogs at home. “We do this out of love for the animals, and it’s fun to meet others who share that feeling,” she said. The pet ministry has blossomed from the early days when the first feature was prayers for animals through its website. It was a huge success with requests for prayers coming in from all over the world. “I think our pet ministry is unique because we do so much,” Siegert said.