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GA is going to the dogs. Commissioners are here for it.

Service dogs bring delegates comfort and joy at the 226th General Assembly.

TEC Rachel Brown, and her service dog, Indiana Jones Jr, participate in the 226th General Assembly. Photo by Jonathan Watson for Presbyterian Outlook.

Salt Lake City – The 226th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), held at the Salt Palace Conference Center, saw an inspiring presence of service dogs, offering a heartwarming reminder of the unique bond between humans and their canine companions.

Rachel and Indiana. Photo by Greg Allen Pickett.

Rachel Brown, a teaching elder commissioner from the Presbytery of Western New York, brought her service dog, Indiana Jones Jr., to the assembly. The Cavalier King Charles Spaniel quickly became a beloved figure among attendees. 

“Everyone has been so welcoming, helpful, and respectful to both me and Indiana from the hotel to the convention center, to our meetings in plenary,” Brown said. “This is the first major trip he’s been on, and it’s going wonderfully.”

One positive interaction she shared was when someone approached her who had a hand-knit prayer square that was dog-themed. This other commissioner had seen the prayer square and made a point to take it to Brown and Indiana. Brown shared that the church needs to understand service animals help people enter every space and place. The reason someone has a service animal is non-essential. Brown’s experience highlights the inclusive and supportive nature of the assembly, showcasing how service dogs can enhance the well-being of their handlers even in bustling environments.

Service dog Indiana Jones in plenary. Photo by Jonathan Watson for Presbyterian Outlook.

Dee Cooper, the executive presbyter of the Denver Presbytery, brought Nessie Skye, a Golden Retriever service puppy-in-training, to the assembly, adding to the heartwarming presence of service dogs. Before the July 3 opening plenary, Nessie sat outside the Salt Palace Conference Center. Cooper explained that this was part of Nessie’s socialization process, but it also served a dual purpose. 

“Nessie was here to help decrease the anxiety and stress of commissioners arriving for the plenary, especially with a contentious issue (POL-01) on the agenda,” Cooper said. Cooper took a sabbatical a few years ago where she studied what animals teach us about play, about the world and about God. The text from Job 12:7-10 became a core verse in her ministry and her life: “But ask the animals, and they will teach you; the birds of the air, and they will tell you… Who among all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this? In his hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of every human being.” 

“Nessie was here to help decrease the anxiety and stress of commissioners arriving for the plenary, especially with a contentious issue (POL-01) on the agenda.” — Dee Cooper

Cooper said that amid all that is happening for Job, he isn’t told to study doctrine or theology — he is told to go to nature, and the animals will provide him learning and love.  The sight of the playful and friendly puppy brought smiles and a sense of calm to many attendees, demonstrating the powerful impact of service dogs in high-stress situations.

Dee and Nessie. Photo by Greg Allen Pickett.

As the General Assembly progresses, the presence of service dogs like Indiana Jones Jr. and Nessie Skye serves as a testament to the invaluable role these animals play in the lives of their people. They are not just pets but true companions and helpers, offering unwavering support and love.

In the spirit of the assembly, these service dogs remind us of the divine connection we share with all of God’s creatures and invite us to live into hope. They bring comfort, reduce stress, and provide a sense of normalcy and peace, showing us how God’s creation can be a source of profound support and joy.