Just as it takes times for children to learn how to behave in a worship service, so it is with service dogs.
Arie (5) and Henry (8) TerBeek sit with Sparrow at church.
Since last fall Mike and Lisa TerBeek have been training Sparrow, a golden retriever, how to behave in public settings, including going with them to Calvin Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Mich., where they worship. Sparrow has been to choir practice, soup suppers, and Cadets. Recently she began sitting in on Sunday services.
“If she’s doing her job,” said Mike, “No one will know she is there.” Mike often sits with the dog in the narthex, where invariably he has to deter church members, young and old, from petting Sparrow, who is not to receive special attention while she is wearing her working cape.
The TerBeeks had considered getting a dog as a family pet but did not have much experience training dogs. They connected with Paws with a Cause, a national organization located near the TerBeek’s home in West Michigan. They will care for Sparrow over the course of a year, bringing her in for specialized training biweekly and occasional veterinary care and grooming. When her training with the TerBeeks is complete, Sparrow will return to Paws for advanced training as a companion dog or for breeding.
“It is a great learning experience for our kids,” said Mike. “She demands a lot of attention and focus.”
Before bringing Sparrow to church, the TerBeeks consulted with Calvin CRC’s Disability Concerns committee. The TerBeeks felt it would be especially good to expose Sparrow to the experience of a church service, so that her future companion might be able to enjoy a church experience.
Of Sparrow’s first experience in the pews, Mike said, “Aside from being very interested in the offering plates that passed by—they do resemble her doggie bowls, upon reflection—she was very well behaved.”