Article of the week: Every dog has its day
22 May 2021
Sue MacDonald shares how a visit from a therapy dog introduced her to the Army and changed her life
MY Father and I were visiting my mother in hospital, and the nurse asked us if we liked dogs. We said yes, and in walked Evie, a therapy dog, with her owner, Major Alexandra Hughes. Being in hospital was making my mother unhappy but Evie brought smiles to Mum’s face as she stroked her.
Alexandra mentioned that she was a retired Salvation Army officer who worshipped at Bognor Regis Corps and that, as part of her Christian ministry in Chichester, she did therapy visits with Evie. My mother lived with dementia but amazingly was able to relate her experiences during the Second World War to Alexandra.
A bomb was dropped on her family’s road in Egham, Surrey, and everyone had to get out of their houses. The Salvation Army took in all nine family members and gave them clothes, food, drink and anything else they needed. They did this for the whole street, and everyone was so grateful. They never forgot the Army’s kindness.
We saw Alexandra and Evie twice more at the hospital and we talked again about The Salvation Army and the Christian faith. Evie greatly cheered my mother up and enjoyed a lot of fuss too.
Sadly, Mum passed away in April 2018, but I kept in touch with Alexandra through social media and she invited me to attend her corps. I have always believed in God but, while I have been to several churches over the years, I never felt I belonged. I decided to go with Alexandra to The Salvation Army and the first thing I noticed was how friendly and welcoming everyone was. I enjoyed the worship as well.
I’m the type of person who likes to help people, so I thought this was the place I needed to be. Alexandra also invited me to the pop-up choir led by corps officer Major Sarah Butler. I started attending most of the worship meetings and a To Serve course. On 23 February 2020 I was enrolled as a soldier. It was an honour to wear my Army uniform. Evie and Alexandra were present at my enrolment and I am grateful for the day God guided them to my mum’s hospital ward.
I have found my spiritual home and a deeper relationship with the Lord Jesus, and my family have seen a difference in me.
Labrador Evie was one of the longest- serving therapy dogs in the UK and touched many people’s lives, visiting hospitals, nursing homes and schools for children with special needs, and helping adults with learning difficulties and those living with dementia. She died in January this year, aged 13.
Evie was recognised at Crufts with a special award for her work over the years and was runner-up in the National Therapy Dog of the Year awards in 2018. In 2020 she was awarded a pet hero award for alerting Alexandra to a family in distress in the sea, which was remarkable because Evie was blind.
The pair have featured on local television and radio and in the press. Their profile has created several opportunities for Alexandra to talk about the Army and her faith.
‘I always prayed that God would … make an opportunity [for me] to share my faith,’ she says, ‘and with every client I met our conversation would end with “God bless you”. A dog is non-judgemental and can be a bridge to talking about God. Just a dog some might say, but one that God used for his Kingdom.’