Furry friends provide comfort in Pet Partners

FORT MILL—David Eggert knows how much love dogs have to give. He sees it when he takes his rescue dog Reba to visit shut-ins or residents at Fort Mill area nursing homes.

That’s why he organized Pet Partners, a new program at St. Philip Neri Church that offers the sick, lonely and elderly a chance to receive visits from well-behaved dogs and their owners.

Father John Giuliani, pastor, sparked the idea when he commented on the Evangelical Lutheran Church’s comfort dog ministry, which visited tornado victims in Oklahoma.

So far, nine people have signed up their dogs. The roster includes Labrador and golden retrievers, mixed breeds, Shih Tzus, a miniature poodle and a collie.

“It’s a good mix, because some people we visit might prefer a bigger dog, while others might want a small dog — a lap dog they can just hold in their arms,” Eggert said.

There are a few basic requirements: Dogs must be well-groomed, have all their shots, completed obedience training, and have a calm demeanor.

The group has put their dogs through some role-playing exercises to see how they respond to meeting new people, encountering someone in a wheelchair and other situations.

Pet Partners will visit people in their own homes or in assisted living. Owners can advance to having their dogs trained as comfort or therapy dogs, which can work with trauma victims and visit hospital patients.

Eggert said Reba offers a quiet, loving presence despite a hard beginning in life. The German shepherd-retriever mix was adopted from a shelter the day before she was to be euthanized. When the pooch was first brought in as a stray, shelter workers discovered she had been shot.

Another participant is Marie Dudek of Tega Cay and her 10-year-old golden retriever, Amber.

“[Amber’s] super sweet and says hello to everybody. She even likes cats,” Dudek said. “I think pets can sometimes reach people when others can’t.”

To enroll your dog in Pet Partners or receive a visit from one of the dogs, call Eggert at (803) 548-6864.

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