Do you remember your first dog? The one that wasn’t the “family dog” but was actually yours to care for and love just on your own? Mine was a sweet Springer Spaniel named Holly, and I bought her with my own money when I was fifteen years old. I cleaned a woman’s house every week in order to collect the $100 I needed to choose a pure bred pup from a kennel in Great Falls, Montana. I had no idea how to clean a house at that age, but the woman who hired me was excited for me to buy a puppy and overlooked many of my shortcomings. I had Holly for nine years, until she tragically became ill and died due to a kidney infection. The loss of Holly was so traumatic for me that I quit school in Missoula and moved back home, where I suffered from depression for over a year. I didn’t know I would grieve like that, and I was shocked at how hard it was for me to recover my old cheerful self after the loss. At that time, there was no one who understood how bonded I was with Holly except my own family. There was not a church that offered me a community of animal lovers who could understand my depth of feeling for my dog and be the support I needed during my grief. Many years later, after raising a family and running a boarding kennel business with my husband, I felt the call to ministry and realized the need for a church which could share God’s love for people through a focus on celebrating the relationship people have with their dogs. It could also offer the community setting for sharing our lives together and including these special members of the family. I went to seminary to receive training as a pastor and after graduation felt led to start a new church. Because there were no churches that focused on dog lovers, my husband and I, our family, and about a dozen other like-minded people started Unleashed Community Church in September of 2014, and it has been an amazing journey to this point! We want to become the church that is turned to when people need prayer for their pets, resources and referral for situations they encounter, and support and encouragement during loss or crisis. We want to partner with the organizations that help rescue and rehome pets and with those who provide veterinary care and shelter for our friends without houses who have pets with whom they are deeply bonded. We also want to be a fun loving community where the wonder of the human-animal bond is shared and felt and God is praised for creating the animals that offer so much help and love to people everywhere around the world. We believe that God demonstrates his unconditional love to us through Jesus, who welcomed any and all into relationship with him and invites us to share that same invitation and acceptance with everyone we meet. We see this unconditional love reflected continually in the unconditional love of our dogs for us, and we want to one day be a source of family and support to dog lovers everywhere. It has been a long walk from losing my first dog to starting a church for dog lovers, but I now see why going through what I did with Holly has been used by God to give me the motivation to help others through similar situations and to experience the joy that can be found in having friends who understand the deep emotions we have about our dogs and other pets. Sometimes loss results in gain…I think that’s one of the messages God teaches us in this life, and it has been proven through the wonderful friends we have gained since starting Unleashed.