We have recently grown our team by two members: both of the doggy kind! Tilly, a jack Russell, joined our team during lockdown, first being socialised by Sarah – one of our first (now retired) chaplains, before moving in with Wendy – our Anna Chaplain. Theo (short for Theophilus) a retired racing greyhound, joined our team as we came out of lockdown. Tilly is usually found accompanying Wendy on her visits to Williams Place, while Theo is often found when Libby is out and about or 'parked' when Libby is helping out with Didcot Food Bank. Both are firm favourites, and chaplaincy friends are often more delighted to see the canine companions than their human owners!
It's amazing what difference having a dog can make. People stop for a chat, who might not otherwise, and the two dogs are often spoilt with lots of cuddles, hugs, strokes, and the occasional treat. They also bring a smile in a difficult situation, a break in a busy period, and a grounding by a need to attend to their physical needs. (Whilst humans might be happy to wait a while for lunch, a bathroom break, or to stretch their legs, dogs are much more reluctant to do so – particularly Theo!)
Both dogs are great with people of all ages and backgrounds. They love having a scratch, playing a game in a group, sitting down for a chat, and when it might be hard to tell someone how you feel, it seems that that barrier tends to lessen when accompanied by licks, long eye gazes and a quiet but noticeable steady breathing. Both dogs love being the centre of attention, and help in whiling away the hours if waiting for something to start. It's amazing how many games kids manage to make up when Theo is around! Tilly, being a slightly older dog makes her an excellent companion for nervous, shy people, and at Williams Place.
Of course, there are challenges in having dogs around. Tilly, being an older dog, gets tired easily and may need a carry. She's also a bit nervous when left outside if Wendy has to pop in for
something. Theo, having experienced some traumatic events in his younger life, is easily agitated by free-running dogs and cats, and may need an emergency bathroom break, whine or pull as a result.
It's been great having our 'canine chaplaincy companions' with us on the team. It's helped our team feel bigger, encouraged more conversations, and is getting us much more noticed around Great Western Park. If you see either Tilly or Theo out for a walk, do stop and say 'hello'. They don't bite, and they very rarely bark!