Christine Barnes was looking for a way to combine two of the great joys in her life: her love for animals and her desire to help people in need.
Barnes, who is typically joyful and full of positive energy, found her special calling when she was introduced to pet therapy. Now she wants to spread the joy through this special ministry.
Pet therapy involves teams of people and animals who are trained before going out to visit people with special needs.
“I have loved animals all my life and love to care for people in need,” said Barnes. She spent a year observing and assessing a group who visited nursing homes with well-trained and disciplined pets, and decided to branch off to start her own program in North Fulton County.
Perimeter Pet Pals is a ministry outreach program of Johns Creek United Methodist Church.
The first task was for Barnes to be certified and trained in pet therapy. She received her license and certification from Delta Society, an international therapy association. After obtaining her license, and being trained to understand what a good and acceptable therapy dog is, Barnes then recruited volunteers for Pet Pals. Perimeter Church in Duluth was helpful in finding volunteers initially, and then Barnes visited veterinary offices and pet stores to find more.
Barnes’ current Pet Pals group consists of 12 men and women. Each volunteer is required to undergo a test with their pet, and must retest every two years. A typical test takes about 20 minutes. If a pet is social, gentle, and very obedient they will pass.
“Pets need to be able to control themselves around other pets and treats. They may not growl, show their teeth, jump, or bark. Generally a pet needs to be 1 or 2 years old for these requirements,” said Barnes.
Volunteers regularly visit four groups in Duluth and Alpharetta, mainly assisted-living facilities. They also go to libraries and one homeless shelter for children. The volunteers are animal lovers who share God’s love and joy, and want to aid people with companionship and encouragement.
Barnes’ Pet Pals is always looking for new friends to join the group.
There is a $25 donation for the test and testing is open to birds, cats, dogs, and rabbits.
This article recently ran in the North Georgia Advocate, the official print source of the North Georgia United Methodist Conference. For more information about the North Georgia Advocate, or to subscribe, please visit www.ngumc.org/advocate or call 678.533.1376.