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Pooches to the Rescue

Lil’ Bit and Mr. Bandit bring cheer to medical center patients and disabled campers.

The ministry of Terri Carruthers went to the dogs in 1993. And hundreds of people have benefited since.

Terri and her husband, Paul, are appointed Assemblies of God U.S. Missionary chaplains. She became certified in pet therapy 23 years ago. Every week she brings Mr. Bandit and Lil’ Bit to hospital floors to boost the morale of patients, family members, and staff.

“Dogs lift spirits and help people forget about their problems, even if for just a few minutes,” Terri says. “They can extend tender loving care in a unique way.”

Indeed, Lil’ Bit, dubbed a “100 percent super mutt” because of her less than purebred terrier pedigree, is the veteran at 16 years of age. Mr. Bandit, a Chihuahua mix, has been at it for three years. They make regular visits to the kidney dialysis and cancer floors of Banner University Medical Center in Phoenix.

The dogs, under Terri’s skillful tutelage, make people laugh and smile, thereby alleviating stress. Terri lays down a pillowcase on a patient’s bed and the well-groomed Mr. Bandit or Lil’ Bit soon are snuggling. Often the ill person begins pouring out troubles directly to the pooch. 

“Loneliness can be the worst experience,” Terri says. “Many patients have family members who are not able to visit.”

“People enjoy seeing a dog when they are sick, lonely, afraid, and sad,” Paul says.

The visits typically are brief, not exceeding 10 minutes, ending with Terri subtly pointing the infirm to the Lord.

When Terri goes on more relaxed rehabilitation visits on Saturdays, the dogs actually can help reward patients involved in therapy. For instance, people in a wheelchair will get to pet a dog if they reach a certain point in their exercises.

The dogs also make weekly rounds at the Grand Canyon chapter of the American Red Cross.

In all, Terri has used four therapy dogs over the years. Whiskers Louise and Lady Lace have passed on. Except for Mr. Bandit, the dogs have been rescued from an animal shelter.

For the past two decades, Paul and Terri also have taken their dogs to the Lost Canyon Summer Get Away sponsored by Special Touch Ministry. They attend the Lost Canyon get away in Williams, Arizona.

Special Touch Ministry Executive Director Charlie Chivers is grateful for the joy the dogs bring to the campers, especially those with intellectual disabilities.

“The therapy dogs disarm people and bring a moment of commonality,” says Chivers, who also is an AG U.S. missionary. “The innocent animal shows love and respect.”

Paul or Terri take a photo of the camper holding the dog, and put the picture in a frame to serve as a memento of the connection made. Frequently the camper will look at the heartwarming remembrance fondly for weeks or months after the Get Away.

Paul and Terri have been married for 43 years and serving as U.S. Missionary chaplains since 1980.

The volunteer pet therapy is only a sliver of what they do. Their foundational ministry involves Native Americans living at the Caring House on the Gila River Indian Reservation in Sacaton, Arizona. The 90 residents represent many tribes. The U.S. missionaries also serve the 120-bed Phoenix Indian Medical Center where those from tribes in five states come for medical care and treatment.

In addition to visiting with patients in their rooms, Paul and Terri’s duties range from holding Sunday worship services to conducting funerals.

John W. Kennedy

John W. Kennedy served as news editor of AG News from its inception in 2014 until retiring in 2023. He previously spent 15 years as news editor of the Pentecostal Evangel and seven years as news editor at Christianity Today.