What the Church Could Learn from Our Dog Park

As I related in my previous post, because of our new rescue dog, we’ve become regulars at our local dog park. According to our trainer, this helps him overcome the fear and trauma of his past abuse by interacting with people and other dogs. Since the park wasn’t opened when we had our last pet, it’s a new experience for us. But I’ve come to anticipate our visits.

Last week, on the drive home from the park, I commented to my partner that if church were more like our dog park, it would be easier for us to find a “home.” (Recently, I completed a series of posts called Church Search, where I shared my observations and insights about our quest for a new “church home,” particularly what it is that we are looking for, and some of our experiences.)

That off-the-cuff remark stayed in my head, and I’ve found myself paying closer attention, and journaling my observations.

Here’s what I’ve noticed:

Love brought us together.
Those who frequent the park are there because they love their dogs. They may have different specific reasons (exercise, fresh air, training, socialization), but at the core is this shared love.

Diversity is the norm.
Each time we go to the park, I’m struck with the vast differences and distinctions. There are all ages, genders, colors, personalities, education, backgrounds and sizes.
And the same is true of the people!

Comparisons fade in the camaraderie.
Variety is evident at the Park. Designer dogs, pure breeds and mutts. Some are well trained, others are rambunctious. I never seen the owner of a dainty Bichon Frise make fun of a scruffy rescue.
It’s not about the ways we differ; we are united around a mutual love for our dogs.

A few weeks ago, my small, 9-pound dog was chasing a fully grown greyhound. Of course, he couldn’t keep up, and no one expected that of him. We all watched their exuberance as they raced several times around the park. My dog was perpetually several yards behind, but the two dogs were running...together. In the end, the fastest dog was not determined “the winner,” and no one designated one dog as better than the other.
They both had a enjoyable time.
It wasn’t a completion!

Everybody has a story.
What I’ve found is that people like talking about their dogs, and with dog owners. And the reverse is also true—they are interested enough to ask about and listen to the stories of others. Some are simple; others are moving. But we all have a story!

A few weeks ago, there was who has two well-trained dogs, which she takes to nursing homes weekly. I listened to an older man who was there with his elderly Basset; it was their first time to get out of the house since the death of his wife. I met a couple who had a small Labradoodle they gotten to help their autistic son. I've heard accounts of severe injuries and recovery, and heartwarming narratives of rescued dogs. I was telling some folks the story of our rescue dog, and a lady sitting near was in tears as she commented about how wonderful it was that we had saved his life.

We bond emotionally...with our stories.

There’s interaction.
You can be lonely at a Dog Park, but that’s more of a choice. It's not just dog-friendly, it's human-friendly as well. There are conversations going on everywhere. (Remember, people like to talk about their dogs...but that's just the springboard to other topics.)

Help is Offered.
People don’t just bring their dogs to the Park, they bring their experience and a willingness to share helpful insights and wisdom. How to make your own dog treats. Crate-training. Healthy dog foods. Which Vet to use.
We’ve learned so much from other dog owners.
Folks there know that our dog has fear issues, so they are gentle and supportive. Several have spent time with him. They are helping him become less afraid of people.

No one is confused about the purpose.
I’ve never seen anyone bring a bunny or a cat to our Park. We all know why we are there, and that’s why we are there.

It’s joyful.
I don’t think anyone who visits our Dog Park would mistake it for a solemn occasion. The animal are having fun, and so are the humans who accompanied them. Balls and Frisbees are being thrown, dogs are running with one another, rolling and tumbling, puppies are bouncing around, people are laughing and clapping. The mutual love of our dogs creates an atmosphere of excitement and a visible enthusiasm. It would be difficult to remain sad while watching the unbridled bliss and energy of these animals at play.

Compassion is evident.
I’ve never seen anyone refuse to graciously share the treats, or try to exclude other dogs. I've not heard anyone attempt justification for why only dogs in the Park should be fed, but not those in other places. I'm moved by the kindness of these individuals who talk with great sadness about the abuse of puppy mills, abandoned or mistreated animals. 

It's not about domination.
Yes, there are Alpha Dogs, and the ones who want to “hump” every dog it sniffs. There are also dogs who are bigger and can be a little rough on the smaller dogs. But that kind of inappropriate behavior is monitored by the dog owners.

Stereotypes are broken.
I’ve watched our tiny dog play with Pit Bulls, and tumble with Dobermans. I've had some scary looking big dogs come up to me and show the gentlest dispositions.

The environment is informal; the dress code is casual.
Come as you are. It’s a Park, not a fashion show!
The focus is on enjoying the dogs, not how others are dressed.

We all clean up poop.
Let’s face it: there will be messes. But I don’t see people sitting, unconcerned, waiting for someone else to clean it up. By working together, we lighten the load (pardon that pun) for one another.

In short, those at our Park are a...community.
We are “dog people.”

The former preacher in me would like to expand on each of these observations, going into great detail about the obvious and implied analogies and how they relate to the church as a whole. But I will restrain myself, and invite each reader to draw your own applications, particularly for your specific congregation.

Personally I think all of these elements could be incorporated into the church, and the results would be...doggone great!!
(Oh, come on. It had to be said!)

To quote the confession of a dyslexic believer: “Dog is good!”


Print Friendly and PDF