Integrating Theology, Psychology, and Anatolian Shepherd Dogs
Anyone who thinks that a Fuller education is incompatible with a career in raising dogs has never met Chyril Walker (PhD '90). Walker is the founder of Shepherds Rest Farm, a ten-acre farm in Newberg, Oregon, that primarily breeds and nurtures Anatolian Shepherd dogs, although goats are raised as well. Walker has found in her current work a way to combine three of her deepest passions: theology, psychology, and Anatolians.
Walker worked as a licensed psychologist for about ten years after graduating from Fuller, during which time she and her husband Jim had three children. "I was finding it hard to take care of family needs and continue working, with Jim being away so often on business travel," she says. "One evening it was time to start dinner and I got an emergency call from a client. My kids were hungry, with one starting to cry at my knee, while I was trying to stabilize the client. God got my attention, and I realized something needed to change."
At that point, Walker took a year off from work, and soon found herself involved in homeschooling. "I discovered quickly that I had a passion for teaching my kids," she explains, and the classes she had taken at Fuller on learning theory helped her to feel well prepared. "When my daughter gained 3½ to 5½ grade levels in every subject in a single year, I felt the calling was there to homeschool, which I did for nine years," Walker says.
Walker's children became interested in animals, so the family moved to a ten-acre farm and began to raise goats. They added an Anatolian Shepherd dog to guard the goats, and soon Walker began to undertake extensive research on the Anatolian Shepherd breed. These dogs are very effective at protecting livestock from wild animals, she learned, thereby ultimately protecting the wild animals as well from being trapped or killed by farmers. Walker then built connections with an international network of owners of Anatolians; she now has a stud dog from Turkey temporarily at her farm--who understands obedience commands only in Turkish!--and she recently took an Anatolian pup to a cheetah conservation program in South Africa. This has led to many cross-cultural friendships and ministry opportunities, including the chance to do consulting regarding the use of Anatolians in therapeutic work with traumatized children.
As it happens, the desire to help children who have suffered trauma is one that is near to Walker's heart, and not only because of her background in psychology. In 2001, when Walker had just begun to work with Anatolians, a group of Russian orphans came to visit her farm--including a boy named Vasili. The Walkers felt a special connection with Vas, and in the end chose to adopt him. Walker has now been using her training and experience to help her son deal with the horrors he experienced in his family of origin. This has been a very meaningful, although challenging, experience for her. "If I had evaluated what God asked our family to do, in the way psychologists alone would have you do, we would not have even gone close to Vas' adoption," Walker says. "Yet the training from Fuller was psychology integrated with theology, and that theology--as well as my faith--called me to unconditional obedience to God and trust in him!"
Walker's path with her family over the years may have been an unconventional one, but the journey has led her to a place where she is able to bring together a wide variety of interests and experience as she pursues God's calling. As she puts it, "I'm using all my training, and more!" Walker's story may serve to remind us that we must never set limits on the things that God is able to integrate--even when their diversity spans the range of psychology, theology, and Anatolian Shepherds.