Dogs are known as man’s best friend for a reason. They’re loyal, non-judgmental, and just when life has taken a turn for the worse, they are often there to bring a smile to one’s face.
And that’s very much the case with Heidi, a 4-year-old Belgian Malinois, who might as well be considered the town mascot in Jonesborough. Oftentimes, Heidi can be seen perched atop the roof of an old white pickup truck parked in downtown Jonesborough while her owner, Martin Wisor, works around the town.
“She’s a wonderful, wonderful dog and people just light up when they see her. I’ll take her to nursing homes and those older people just light up,” Wisor said while Heidi laid on the floor retired military and law enforcement chaplain has worked with both the Jonesborough Public Safety and the Jonesborough Fire Department as a volunteer chaplain. He also founded the United Association of Christian Chaplains and Counselors International, which operates out of Jonesborough.
Working as a volunteer chaplain after nearly 40 years of working full-time in chaplaincy and counseling services is a bit of a change for Wisor, but it’s a beside his rocking chair in his downtown Jonesborough office. “She gets more notoriety than I do. People take her picture all the time on that pickup. She’s done that ever since she was a baby.”
As much as Heidi is a part of Jonesborough’s local color, Wisor is every bit a fixture of the town.
For about three years, the job he takes very seriously.
“It’s a unique opportunity, cause Jonesborough is a very small, non-eventful town. The department is awesome and nothing is going to get started that they don’t know about,” he said. “If there is a need, they know I’m here, so when the time arises, I’ll be here. And I’ll do that as long as I’m around.”
While he doesn’t do as much counseling work as he used to, Wisor said the need for addiction counseling hasn’t declined.
“Addiction recovery is such a growing need. I could swamped, but I choose not do it so much anymore. The needs haven’t slowed down one bit,” he said.
After returning from his service in the Army infantry from 1963 to 1969, Wisor decided go into the ministry and enrolled in Allentown Bible College in Pennsylvania. At first, Wisor began training in pastoral ministry, but he soon felt like he was being taught theology without being taught how to use it to help people. That’s when he changed courses and began pursuing training in Bible-based counseling.
“I started to look for training that would teach me what to do if somebody came to me with problems, then I would be able to share the word of God with them in a way that was going to restructure their life,” he said.
Within the realm of counseling, Wisor said there’s a distinct difference between counseling from a biblical perspective versus a secular view, but it’s his desire to really help people that has kept him going since 1974.
“We were created with a spiritual need and that’s to have fellowship with God and to let him have direction of our lives. I didn’t get to where I’m at today overnight. I’m 68 years old, but it was a day-by-day direction of seeking the Lord and the direction through His work,” he said.
And that desire to help people is how Wisor came to adopt Heidi as his friend. She was given to him to be used as a search and rescue dog while he was still working full time with local law enforcement and emergency personnel.
Wisor was forced to slow things down when he fell and injured his hip two years ago. While that type of accident might discourage some, Wisor took is an opportunity to look for other ways to use Heidi, which is why he plans on using her as a therapy dog in the spring.
“She’s just getting to the age at 4 where she’ll be laid-back enough to where I can start using her in that field. When you’re doing pet therapy and dealing with older people, they can’t be startled and when she was a pup, she was high-drive,” he said.
After four years of being together, Wisor said he couldn’t imagine not having Heidi around, especially as he looks forward to her career as a therapy dog.
“In all reality, I got the better end of the deal. I’m looking forward to going to the nursing homes with her, and we could have quite a few years doing that. I could still function as a chaplain and use her as a therapy dog. I’m very much looking forward to that.”