Retired pastor embraces pet therapy ministry
Don Wilkins, Messenger-Inquirer
Roger Taylor spent nearly 50 years leading congregations.
But when he retired from pastoring, he entered a new ministry that revolves around two pint-sized Yorkshire Terriers — 3-year-old Sir Bentley and 2-year-old Lady Betsy.
Prior to COVID-19, Taylor and his two uniquely named Yorkies were among the many volunteers at Owensboro Health Regional Hospital. Taylor said his dogs knew the difference between their home where they would routinely bark and the hospital where they were on their best behavior.
“You come to my house and they’ll bark up a storm because this is their territory and they want to keep us safe,” Taylor said. “But you put those (volunteer) badges on them and tell them they were going to work — you actually would think they were going to work.”
Taylor and his Yorkies were part of the hospital’s pet therapy program. They would spend their time going room to room visiting anyone from stroke patients to the terminally ill at their or families’ requests.
Taylor said the dogs possess a natural sixth-sense that allows them to provide comfort to patients.
“They have a sense of knowing that something is wrong or different — that these folks are not well,” Taylor said. “They just really do a great job with that.” Years before he would begin his pet therapy ministry, Taylor was introduced to the idea when he was invited as a chaplain from Kentucky to New York shortly after 9/11.
“I was invited to go out on the Hudson River and we had dogs with us that took the attention off the grief,” Taylor said. “Those dogs were able to work with those individuals and the kids to get their minds off what they were doing. It was just amazing.”
But it would take the arrival of Sir Bentley three years ago to show Taylor that a similar ministry could be used here as well.
Taylor said having pets in common has made it easier to relate to people, especially those who are going through difficult times.
Most of the patients visited by Taylor and his dogs were either on the hospital’s long-term-care or extended-care floors.
“I talk a lot about my dogs but the ministry is about getting people to talk about their pets they missed,” Taylor said. “…We’re talking about people who’ve been away from their houses and their pets.” And as a retired pastor, Taylor does look for opportunities to share the gospel within the pet therapy ministry.
Taylor said, however, he must allow the patient to broach spiritual conversations. “It would open itself up to me one on one,” Taylor said. “...It’s part of who I am. I can’t separate the two.”
Currently, the hospital’s pet therapy has been suspended as part of the COVID-19 restrictions.
Taylor said he and his dogs are looking forward to returning to the hospital as volunteers.
“It’s been hard,” said Taylor about being unable to participate in the pet therapy. “But I still get to minister to people through my dogs.”
If anyone has an interest in the pet ministry, contact Taylor at firstname.lastname@example.org. Don Wilkins, dwilkins@ messenger-inquirer.com, 270- 691-7299