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Pastor and dog make good ministry team Sam Hodges, Feb 21, 2012
PHOTO COURTESY MICHELLE PERRY
The Rev. Michelle Perry and her dog Goose are ministry partners at First UMC Marriott-Slaterville in Utah.
By Sam Hodges Managing Editor
The Rev. Michelle Perry and her dog, Goose, make beautiful ministry together.
Ms. Perry, a licensed local pastor at First UMC Marriott-Slaterville, Utah, and Goose, a 12-year-old Weimaraner, go together to visit shut-ins. They also collaborate on a blog called “Gospel of Goose,” with Ms. Perry writing in the dog’s voice to provide inspiration and raise funds for a local homeless shelter.
With Goose’s (and her church’s) blessing, Ms. Perry recently started a bring-your-dog worship service. A Type 1 diabetic, Ms. Perry not only loves Goose but has needed him at times to keep going, since he has learned to alert her when her appearance suggests low glucose levels.
A dog may be man’s best friend, but it’s hard to imagine a closer relationship than the one between this clergywoman and her pooch. “He means everything to me,” she said. “He’s my companion. He’s a reflection of everything that’s good and loving and compassionate and caring. When they say a dog is a reflection of God’s love, through (Goose) it’s absolutely true.”
Ms. Perry has been part of First UMC Marriott-Slaterville, near Ogden, her whole life. She served as youth minister before becoming associate pastor, and actually lived at the church for years.
Her life took a turn one day when she went to the pet store to get some rocks for her lizard.
“A rescue group was there with some dogs and cats,” she said. “I walked out with Goose. He was six months old.”
The name came with the dog, who had twice been returned by owners. But he and Ms. Perry quickly formed a bond. Since she was living and working at the church, they were practically inseparable.
And she came to depend on him for her health.
“When my glucose levels get low, he seems to recognize that, even when I’m asleep,” she said. “He’ll jump up and down on the bed. He’ll push my face with his nose, to make sure I do what I need to do to get levels back up. He doesn’t let up until I respond.”
Goose isn’t certified to go into hospitals as a therapy dog, but he does go with Ms. Perry on other visiting rounds.
“Some of our shut-ins just love him,” she said. “If I happen not to bring him, the first thing they ask is, ‘Where’s Goose?’”
Ms. Perry moved out of the church a few years back, and tried leaving him inside when she went to work. But his separation anxiety was so intense, she said, that he literally broke down a door trying to find her.
That led Ms. Perry to put him in doggy day care. She became friends with Vickie King, owner of Canine Country Club. Ms. King had a blog under her dog’s name, and encouraged Ms. Perry to follow suit.
Thus was born last October the blog “Gospel of Goose” (gospelofgoose.blogspot.com), through which Ms. Perry shares all manner of observations, usually with a spiritual twist. The blog features lots of photos of Goose, and he’s the “I” of the prose (and the occasional poetry), with frequent references to “Mom,” that being Ms. Perry.
“It was a way to reach out to people and share my thoughts about faith and Christ’s love, and all that encompasses,” she said. “It’s amazing how many people read it and comment back.”
Indeed, her blog statistics show more than 4,000 visitors already, and it’s not uncommon for her to get 20 comments per post.
Lately the blog has taken on a second purpose: helping to raise funds for St. Anne’s Center, a local homeless shelter.
The center can’t accommodate pets, which a surprising number of homeless people have.
“Sometimes that’s all they have,” Ms. Perry said.
Ms. Perry, a longtime board member of St. Anne’s, was grieved to learn that some of its clients were stashing their pets overnight in some old school lockers behind the facility.
So Ms. Perry pushed for having the center, which is building a new facility, add a pet park with an enclosed area that will provide shelter in bad weather.
And in November, she added to the blog a prominently-placed box explaining the cause and asking for donations. So far she and Goose have raised $4,500.
“We had one donation from Austria,” Ms. Perry said.
November also marked the start of bring-your-dog worship services at First UMC.
Close as she is to Goose, Ms. Perry understood the attachment many people have to their dogs, and thought such a service might fill a niche. She was given further motivation when a man arrived for worship and asked if he could tie his dog up outside.
Ms. Perry got permission from the First UMC board to try bring-your-dog worship once a month, on Sunday evening. The service is in the sanctuary, and the dogs are kept on leash.
Though it’s still a new thing, the service has seen as many as 26 dogs. So far, about a third of the people are visitors.
“Being allowed to have their pet, their best friend, makes it just more comfortable to come to church,” she said. “Otherwise, they would not come.”
After worship, there’s fellowship, with snacks for the people and treats for the dogs. So far, the dogs have been well-behaved in worship, which includes a sermon by Ms. Perry.
“We haven’t had any incidents,” Ms. Perry said. “They’ll bark and howl a bit in some of the songs.”
Paul Kriekard, a church member, has become a regular to the service, always bringing his dog Coal.
“At first I thought it was kind of crazy,” Mr. Kriekard said. “We went and really enjoyed it. We haven’t missed.”
Ms. King, of the Canine Country Club, is a Mormon, but she decided to come to the worship service out of support for Ms. Perry. She and her dog keep coming back.
“Michelle is a quiet person, but when she gives a sermon there’s a real power in her,” Ms. King said.
Not surprisingly, this new worship service has been fodder for Goose’s blog.
“We are lucky dogs to belong to a community that invites us to come and worship with humans,” Goose wrote on Dec. 18, 2011. “You know what, I’m wrong, we are not lucky, we are blessed.”