These Comfort Dogs are trained working animals prepared to interact with people in ways that provide a bridge for compassionate ministry to take place.
This ministry was begun by Lutheran Church Charities in February 2008, following the tragic shootings of four students at Northern Illinois University. When LCC saw the students flocking to the Comfort Dogs for emotional therapy, sometimes preferring the animals over university counselors, they decided to expand the ministry nationally.
Today there are over 70 trained golden retriever Comfort Dogs placed in churches across the country, bringing a calming influence and emotional healing to a great number of people at special events, schools, nursing homes, hospitals and disaster response situations. These compassionate canines have been used to spread comfort to those who have suffered traumatic situations all over the country, including those in Newtown, Connecticut, the Boston Marathon, and most recently after the earthquakes in Napa, California.
The ministry only goes where invited–it never intrudes. When they arrive at the place to which they’ve been invited, they set up off to the side, so people don’t feel pressured to approach. The dogs are effective comforters because they make people feel safe, allowing them to open up about their traumas. The handlers don’t talk, but rather let the dogs do the primary work of listening. Each dog has a sign that says “Please pet me,” which encourages people to relax enough to talk about their distress.
Christ Our Savior Lutheran Church in Loudon will be the first congregation in Tennessee to offer this ministry. A Comfort Dog named Jewel officially began her ministry on September 7th with a “Passing of the Leash” ceremony, celebrating the transition of the Comfort Dog into service. Jewel is a 14-month old purebred golden retriever who has undergone 3,000 hours of training. She responds to 40 commands and has been taught to be gentle and passive when working with the public. Part of her training period was spent providing comfort to tornado victims in Washington, Illinois and rural Arkansas.
Jewel even has her own Facebook page (Facebook.com/Jewel Comfort Dog), Twitter account(delete Twitter account) and email address ([email protected]), as well as a business card printed with her photo and Bible verse that gets handed out whenever she’s working. To inquire about Jewel and possible visits, contact Christ Our Savior Lutheran Church at 865-459-9407. And, if you see Jewel out and about the community, remember, she loves to be petted!