Helping others get through a ruff time
For Rev. Claire Wright, participating in Channel 10’s The Dog House Australia was a matter of faith.
Airing on Channel 10, The Dog House Australia focuses on the work of the Animal Welfare League at Kemps Creek. The centre cares for abandoned, mistreated, or surrendered animals, and matching them for adoption.
“Back in July 2022, I got an email from Synod, putting out a call to NSW-based ministers who were looking to adopt a rescue dog – and would be open to be filmed going through that process for The Dog House Australia,” Rev. Wright said.
“I had been seriously looking to get a dog, ever since finding myself in a manse in Taree …within 20 minutes’ drive of some of the best dog-friendly beaches in the state – and always being in need of some support for work-life balance.”
“After my umpteenth conversation with dog-owning friends about what breed would work best for me, I said: ‘What I really need is something like The Dog House, where they match the person with the individual dog!’ The Synod email, which had been sitting dormant in my inbox for some time – suddenly came to front of mind.”
“I already loved The Dog House Australia for its genuineness, its warm heart, its interest in diverse people – and above all, its affirmation of ‘rescue’ dogs and robust encouragement of adoption. If I could support that message – and in the process find the right dog for me (and vice versa) – it was an unmissable opportunity. I made the call.”
Rev. Wright’s decision to participate in the program had its roots in a natural disaster.
In March 2021, NSW’s Mid North Coast was hit by flooding. Rev. Wright was mobilised as a member of the NSW Disaster Recovery Chaplains Network, and served as chaplain in the Recovery Centre in Laurieton. Chaplaincy had an important role to play, not just i the aftermath, but in the community’s longer-term recovery process.
“Since I was already ‘on the ground’ in the region, with a remit to develop new ministry in the area, I was released by the Manning Valley Congregations to work as a Flood Recovery Chaplain for four days per week in the twelve months following the floods,” she explained.
“The main focus of the role was offering pastoral care (and where appropriate, practical help and support) in flood-affected communities, both proactively and by referral from other agencies working in the region.”
This meant offering emotional and spiritual support to people, connecting them with financial and practical assistance, referring them to agencies, acting as chaplain for public gatherings and events, and offering education on community recovery and resilience.
“Chaplaincy was increasingly about simply journeying with people: asking ‘how are you going?’ – and, perhaps uniquely, being able to sit with whatever the answer was, to hold space for people to feel whatever they were feeling – as well as holding faith and hope for the future,” Rev. Wright said.
“This was an extraordinary privilege, resulting in a connection to community which will shape my ministry role in the Manning Valley for years to come.”
“At the same time, it was an emotionally challenging role, which required unusual levels of stress management, emotional support and self-care.”
Rev. Wright found herself saying, “Perhaps I should get a dog.”
“Like many people, I guess, I had some preconceptions about what a ‘rescue dog’ would be like – and as a first-time dog guardian, I was worried about whether I’d be able to give a ‘troubled’ dog what it needed to heal and thrive,” Rev. Wright said.
“But our faith calls us to have a particular care for the lost, least and left behind – and I didn’t see why that shouldn’t apply to dogs as well as humans.”
“I also learned that people surrender dogs for all sorts of reasons: in the current economic climate, often because of housing access, relocation and affordability. Not all dogs in a shelter have ‘issues’ – and very few have ‘issues’ that a loving, patient, secure home can’t mend, with time…
Rev. Wright said she found the process of matching person to dog to be, “both caring and careful.”
The organisation took lifestyle and personality factors were taken into account, as well as motivation and preparedness.
“I was confident that, in the end, I was going to be offered a dog that, with a bit of flexibility and grace, would ‘work’ for me – and I for him or her,” Rev. Wright said.
Missy is Rev. Wright’s three-year-old Jack Russell/Foxy cross. She has been embraced by the Manning Valley Uniting Church congregations and the local community, sitting through classes Rev. Wright teaches at the University of the Third Age (U3A), and attracting pats and conversation wherever the two go.
“I knew that sharing my personal space – my home and my ‘down time’ – with another creature would take some getting used to,” Rev. Wright said.
“I knew it would be lifestyle-altering. (The shedding! The pooper-scooper!) But I didn’t anticipate the extent to which adopting Missy has, in fact, been life changing.”
“Not just for my health and fitness – we walk five to eight kilometres daily by our beautiful rivers and beaches, and stroking a sleeping dog is a wonderful antidote to stress – but for my way of being in the world; my way of being before God.”
“Dogs live in the present moment, and are always completely and authentically themselves. They love unconditionally, forgive unreservedly and play uninhibitedly.”
“My new favourite definition of grace: ‘We don’t deserve dogs.’ Certainly, Missy – and the whole process of our finding each other – and the people who have connected with me (and the church) as a result of our TV appearance – has been an experience of pure gift.”
Rev. Wright said she found a whole new community of ‘dog people’ who connect with each other while out walking – and talk “deeply and unashamedly” about what their dogs teach them about God and life.
“Missy and I are forming a little ministry together called ‘Fido’ (‘I have faith’ in Latin), to create an affirming space for some of these conversations and relationships,” she said.
“‘Fido’ seems to make sense to people who may be un-churched or de-churched people, but nevertheless find in the gaze of their dog something that draws them into deeper waters.”
“We hope to offer faith-focused ‘walk and talk’ sessions; a Support Grrrrrrrroup for those doing it tough; and a DOGooders group to help homeless and economically challenged people access pet supplies and veterinary care for their beloved companion animals. Just part of my new adventure in Missy-ology.”
Rev. Wright told Insights she recommends people adopt a dog if they are considering this.
“Seriously, if anyone is contemplating getting a companion animal, don’t hesitate: contact your local shelter – or the Animal Welfare League – and start the conversation,” she said.
“We can’t keep bringing more and more designer puppies into the world, when there are already so many amazing creatures languishing in kennels, longing for a home and family.”
“Adopting a ‘rescue’ dog is surprisingly inexpensive – and hugely rewarding. And you never know: the dog may just end up ‘rescuing’ you.”
Rev. Claire Wright’s episode of The Dog House Australia is available to stream now on 10Play. You can watch the episode here.