Photo courtesy of “LCC K-9 Comfort Dogs” Facebook page. Add link https://www.facebook.com/k9comfort/ with the online article
by April Bayer
31 teams from the Lutheran Church Charities’ (LCC) K-9 Comfort Dog program recently journeyed to Parkland, Fla., to bring comfort and ministry to the community following the tragic Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
The dogs and their handlers began arriving in Parkland on Feb. 15 following an invitation from St. Paul Lutheran Church in Boca Raton, Fla., and from Rev. Gregory Walton, president of the Florida-Georgia District of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS). The teams worked in shifts over a period of three weeks and visited over 20 Broward County schools near Marjory Stoneman Douglas to comfort students and staff.
“(Kids) and staff alike were anxious about coming to school. Along with the everyday life circumstances of kids and families, they were fragile,” LCC Director of K-9 Deployments Richard Martin said in an email interview. “Working with counselors (and) the K-9 teams made the kids feel safe and comfortable to talk.”
The dogs were also present throughout the re-opening of Marjory Stoneman Douglas and made several individual visits to the homes of students and families.
“For our teams, it is humbling to be in the presence of those who are grieving as they share their emotions,” Martin said. “You can see a change in their body language when petting the dogs or even just looking at them.”
The LCC currently has over 130 comfort dogs serving in more than 20 states. All the dogs are golden retrievers and begin training when they are only eight weeks old. The dogs work with two apprentice trainers and also participate in weekly classes and individual lessons with master trainers. They are then placed in an LCMS school or congregation after receiving 2,000 hours of training.
“The mission of the LCC is to bring the mercy, compassion, presence and proclamation of Jesus Christ to those who are suffering and in need,” Martin said. “People don’t expect us to fix their problems. They are just thankful for our presence and that we cared enough to be there and listen. They are receptive when we are led and guided by the Holy Spirit to offer prayer.”