Do Dogs go to heaven? Will Rogers once said, “If there aren’t any dogs in heaven, then when I die I want to go where they went!” While we cannot answer that question here, one thing we do know……dogs now go to church! Many churches conduct pet blessing services, but one Palm Desert church has a program to adopt rescue dogs and cats. The next time you exit your church sanctuary, you may be greeted by a paw rather than a human handshake. Furry creatures greet you with wagging tails on the patio outside the Center for Spiritual Living in Palm Desert. The mission of the Pet Ministry is to find forever homes for “angels in fur coats”. This innovative rescue program matches up pets with parishioners.
The roots of the desert’s Pet Ministry go back 20 years to Chicago. Ginny Weissman was a member of Chicago’s Unity Church. Unity was relocating and a homeless mother cat and her kittens were discovered inside their newly renovated building. The minister was an animal lover and decided to bring the little feline family in front of his congregation. The cats were soon placed in loving homes, but the response at Unity was so positive they decided to bring in more pets needing homes. The Pet Ministry was hatched. Ginny began volunteering for the program. With a background in publishing, journalism, and television documentaries, Ginny applied her promotional skills to publicize the program to a wider audience. She added a Sunday bake sale that raised revenue for the pets’ spay and neuter and medical needs.
In 2008, Ginny left Chicago for the Coachella Valley and began attending the Center for Spiritual Living in Palm Desert. One Sunday the minister showed off his two labradoodles and an associate minister mentioned her new canine had been a stray. That was it….a sign the timing was right for Ginny to propose a pet ministry program to her new church home. Ginny Weissman launched The Pet Ministry here with a group of puppy mill rescues in February, 2009. Countless homeless dogs and cats have found their way to great homes. Ginny points out that the key to that success is getting the animals exposed to a large captive audience. Ginny coordinates with local rescue organizations to bring the animals and handle the adoptions. This vivacious animal lover overseas and directs the monthly program like a theatrical performance, sometimes admonishing the little guests to quell their barking during the service.
Here’s how it works. Volunteers showcase the animals outside to the congregants as they arrive for the early service. The animals are brought in to the sanctuary during the announcement time and introduced. The “ooh’s and ahh’s” never fail to come from the admiring audience. The volunteers then escort the animals to the outside patio where the coffee is brewing and the smell of home baked cinnamon rolls and coffee cake permeates the air. The people stream out and many of them stop to meet the pets. That’s when the magic happens and the matches are made.
Ginny points out, “We just don’t pick our dogs. Our dogs pick us, too.” She tells the story of a church newcomer named Jim, who begged off getting any more pets explaining, “I already have two dogs.” He picked up a dog from the Devore animal shelter, and the sweet animal cuddled up to him. It was Christmas time, and Ginny convinced Jim to foster the dog. When Jim drove home with the dog on his lap, he thought to himself, “How did this happen?” Plotting her way to a new home, the little Chihuahua mix became best buds with Jim’s other dogs. When the dog became ill and Jim drove him to the emergency vet clinic, that sealed the deal, and Jake was added to the family.
Ginny is pictured here with her own dog Poppi, a rescue from an animal abuse case in Anza. Poppi was scheduled to go to the Pet Ministry for adoption, but after 2 days at Ginny’s house, the pet psychic noticed their closeness and said, “Poppi is asking me if you’re going to be her new Mommy!”
The large CSL congregation joins in the networking. The church members forward photos of the animals to friends who may want to adopt. Ginny says, “Bringing pets to a church is a win-win, not only for the animal who gets a great home, but also for the church that might attract new members as a result of people coming there to adopt.” Historically churches have operated programs to help the needy. Rescue animals teach us human’s lessons of trust, friendship, loyalty, optimism and second chances.
The Pet Ministry is starting its exciting fourth season! The Pet Ministry happens the second Sunday of each month, and the first one for this year is Sunday, October 14, 9:30 am to 12:30 pm at CSL, 45630 Portola Avenue, Palm Desert. Animals from Forget-Me-Not Peke Rescue and Loving All Animals will be featured at the next adoption event.
Are you interested in starting a Pet Ministry at your church or synagogue? Can we create a network of Pet Ministries throughout the desert? Rescue groups would be happy to bring animals to your church. To learn more, check www.petministrycsl.com <http://www.petministrycsl.com> . Contact Ginny for further information at Ginny@petministrycsl.com. One way God touches us is through the love we share with his creatures, and the Pet Ministry embodies that love.