Rusty, a rescue dog, joins his owner, Terry Brown, in visiting the sick and dying
Terry Brown says his life was changed the first time he heard about Maryknoll in the late 1980s when a Maryknoll missioner visited his parish, St. Isidore’s Catholic Church in Yuba City, Calif. “The message was very meaningful, exciting and inspirational!” Terry remembers. “It made me want to be a missioner!”
Terry had a wife and five children to support and wasn’t able to go overseas. He asked God, “How can I serve you?” After prayerful discernment, he became a firefighter to help his community. On his days off, he started window washing, which provided him with the resources to help the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers financially. He continues his financial and spiritual support today.
Eleven years ago, Terry’s life took another dramatic turn. Driving just north of Sacramento on a rural road he came across an abandoned dog. Unable to find the dog’s owner, he took the little dachshund to a veterinarian to make sure he was all right.
“I knew right then that I would be providing this little lost dog with a forever home,” says Terry. “Because of his rusty brown coat, I named him Rusty.”
Terry did not realize that he and Rusty would not only become best friends, but also partners in mission.
Their mission started when one of their friends had to move to a nursing home. When Terry and Rusty visited the friend, everyone in the nursing home was enthralled with Rusty and wanted to pet him.
Terry began to realize the great need people living in nursing homes have for visitors, both human and animal. He and Rusty kept visiting their friend and expanded their ministry to other nursing home residents even after their friend died.
In 2013 Terry had Rusty certified as a therapy dog. Now every week the pair visit people in senior care homes, hospitals and at home in hospice care.
Remembering their first visit, Terry admits that he is naturally shy and he and Rusty were both very nervous. But with open hearts they proceeded and this local experience brought them both out of their shells, says Terry.
He adds that through their ministry they’ve learned a few things that make people feel more comfortable during their visits. “You can either rush through, letting each person pat the dog or you can take time and get to know them,” Terry says. He carries a kindergarten chair with him, which puts him at the ideal height to converse with someone in a hospital bed or wheelchair. Similarly, he pushes Rusty in a stroller, which makes him more accessible for people to pet. Terry hands out copies of The Maryknoll Book of Prayer, memorabilia like pens, back scratchers, posters and buttons as well as socks, hand lotion and stress balls.
Terry and Rusty make special visits when their friends have few hours left on earth and are often present when their friends go to God. They attend the funerals of the departed and bring comfort to the grieving.
Terry, now a grandfather to five, often takes Rusty to visit schools to educate children about the benefits of therapy dogs for children and adults, and to inspire a new generation of therapy dog ministries.
Terry prays that this article will encourage others to consider joining in this type of ministry and bring smiles to people in need of cheer.
Featured Image: Terry Brown and Rusty, his therapy dog, visit a school in Yuba City, Calif. (Linda Brown/U.S.)