In the aftermath of havoc — wrought by a deranged gunman, armed with an AR15 rifle at a Parkland, Florida high school — it makes all the sense in the world to deploy comfort dogs to aid the survivors. There are no words for the horrific evil that was manifested in the deaths of 17 students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
Appropriately on Valentines Day, dogs, animal advocates and grief workers traveled to the scene to help mourning teens, teachers and parents.
Church K-9 Comfort Dogs
The Lutheran Church Charities K-9 Comfort Dog Ministry is an organization based in Northbrook, IL that works with purebred Golden Retrievers. Their objective is turn them into 'comfort dogs.' To that end, these lovable canines are trained to interact with people of all ages, suffering from physical and mental issues.
Historically these dogs have helped during times of dire need. They have traveled to New York and New Jersey visiting victims of Superstorm Sandy, and in Connecticut after the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School. The charity currently has over 130 LCC K-9 Comfort Dogs serving in more than 20 states, in addition to operating two training facilities in Illinois and Nebraska.
The ministry launched in August 2008 and now dispatches golden retrievers around the U.S. to help those grieving after adversity. One dog named Jacob traveled to Las Vegas and Orlando after the deadly mass shootings in those cities last year and the year prior. Another is named Sasha.
Hilton Head ‘Sasha’
Brenda and Phil Burden from Hilton Head, SC are the proud owners of their 3-year-old dog Sasha. Not only have they visited students in Parkland, the Burdens feel the importance of attending to the nervous contagion that normally spreads after tragedies like school shootings.
"We have been visiting the community at the Parkland amphitheater. We have been visiting first responders to thank them for their services," she said. "Today, we started visiting elementary schools."
When it comes to "the comfort" dogs are capable of giving, the Burdens have a saying: “We like to say, 'Comfort walks in on four paws.’"
Training for Comfort
The ministry animals should not be characterized as “therapy dogs” or “service dogs.” They are called “comfort dogs” for several reasons to differentiate their purpose.
“Our dogs start at 8 weeks old, so we know the whole history of the dogs. We have apprentice trainers, which are volunteers that work with a professional trainer on our staff, and that dog is trained right from the beginning to work with multiple people,” says Tim Hetzner, President & CEO of LCC K-9.
When a Parkland student pets a dog, they will relax, and in so doing they forget their troubles and the heartaches they just experienced. "That’s a key part of the healing process,” says Hetzner.
“A person will open up quicker with the presence of the dog than without. We’re there to listen, to hug [and be hugged]. The dogs are trained to either sit or lay on the ground. They’re not aggressive. They don’t bark or bite. A lot of the time, the dogs will just lie on the ground and people will lie on top of them. I call them rugs with a heartbeat,” he adds.
Much like other professionals, all of the LCC comfort dogs have their own email, Facebook and Twitter accounts. They also have business cards with their face on it.
“We don’t do that to be cute, we do that because anyone who pets one of our dogs gets their business card,” explains Hetzner. “Many times they will message the dog and talk to the dog as if it’s a person. We have to type for our dogs to respond, but it’s an extension of the ministry.”
Primary Source: LCC K-9 Canines