Lutheran Church Charities K-9 Comfort Dogs program began with four golden retrievers in 2008. Fast forward 10 years, and the program has grown to nearly 130 dogs in 23 states. Training begins at eight weeks of age, and the dogs receive over 2,000 hours before they are placed in churches and schools. Dogs like Jewel are not only trained to comfort children and adults, but they also work alongside veterans, who act as their handlers. They become accustomed to working with all ages of people from all walks of life and can work every day. Comfort dogs are trained to the level of a service dog; however, a service dog serves just one handler who most times has a disability. Comfort dogs work with many handlers.
Steve Schoenherr enjoys working with dogs and was a volunteer with Smoky Mountain Service Dogs, when he became aware of the LCC K-9 Comfort Dog program. After looking into the program and seeing the amazing stories of how the dogs touched the lives of children and adults alike, he decided to introduce this ministry to Christ Our Savior. Jewel arrived in August 2014. She will be five years old on June 11th.
Judy and Steve have seen first-hand the impact Jewel has had in visits locally as well as national deployments. “As handlers, you just have to step back and let God be in control. Jewel has that sixth sense to know when someone is hurting, and she will lean in and let that person gently stroke her fur. Her presence brings a calmness which often leads to talking about what is troubling them. Serving with Jewel is our way of sharing God’s love and compassion with others. Seeing the smiles and happiness she brings and the blessing she is to other people, gives us great joy.”
When Jewel has her vest on she knows she is working. She is a key part of the healing process by helping with tragic suicides, the death of loved ones or mass tragedies during countless deployments in and outside the area. Jewel acts as a bridge, opening the door for us to provide Christian compassion, mercy, hope and the love of Jesus Christ. The beauty of a dog is they are very good listeners. They’re confidential, don’t take notes and are not judgmental. We don’t have very many friends who have all those qualities at one time, but a dog does.
Jewel has one caregiver family, Judy and Steve Schoenherr, who see that she is well groomed, fed, exercised, and make sure her vet records are all kept up. This is where Jewel gets loved on and just gets to be a dog! Different handlers and helpers pick Jewel up daily for her regular weekly outings to hospitals, nursing homes, schools, military facilities, and other places she is invited. 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 picture and Bible verse printed on the front.
The LCC K-9 Comfort Dogs only go where they are invited. Quoting Tim Hetzner. “Once we get the call, we try to put boots and paws on the ground within 24 hours. We had a dog on the ground that evening [in Parkland, Florida] during prayer vigils, and the rest of the dogs came in the next day serving the community in the centers where the high school kids gathered.” When Jewel is deployed, she is given a break every few hours. The vest comes off, and the dogs chill out a little bit, play ball and then the vest goes back on, and back to work.
What do the dog handlers do? First of all, they always protect Jewel and make certain that she obeys the commands given her. The handler is responsible to see that she is calm and well behaved in order to be a blessing to those people she is visiting. Many times a “Ministry Helper” will accompany the han-dler on outings. The helper interacts and sometimes prays with the person being visited, hands out Jewel’s cards, and takes pictures.
The Comfort Dog Ministry is all about sharing the Mercy, Compassion, Presence and Proclamation of Jesus with those hurting and in need. We have seen how interacting with Jewel calms children, stimulates conversation, opens doors to the community, brightens the lives of home bound and those in nursing homes, creates bridges for compassion when disaster strikes, helps with loneliness or depression, stimulates minds and spirits, and sparks memories. All of our handlers and helpers can attest to this and they get just as much joy and satisfaction out of the program as the people they serve.
Handlers and helpers are always needed in the Comfort Dog Ministry. Please give it your greatest consideration!
Visit Jewel, our comfort dog, on her very own Site page.