Gone to the dogs

Photo by Leah Lehman Zoey, a comfort dog, recently paid a visit to St. Martin Lutheran Church in Clintonville.

This week has pretty well gone to the dogs for me, but in a good way.

When I accepted an invitation to a combination graduation and anniversary party, I had no idea that there would also be three golden retrievers present. I have always secretly wanted a golden retriever, but the dogs in my past have always been mutts.

The retrievers at the party were not just ordinary dogs, however. They are owned by a couple from Indiana, who attended the party, and since they couldn’t just leave the dogs home, they brought them along. Even more, the two older ones are used by the woman, as she is a psychologist who works with children and finds that, for the most part, having the dogs is a great help.

“Some kids are afraid of them, but then we just put the dog in a different room,” she said. “But most of the children are more apt to open up with one of the dogs there.”

The puppy is too young for that as of yet, but she is in training. At the outdoor party, the dogs were a great hit for the kids present, and even for us older ones, I know I spent some quality dog petting time with those awesome comfort on paws dogs.

A few days later, I came in contact with two other golden retrievers who work as comfort dogs. The presentation was at St. Martin Lutheran Church in Clintonville. They had invited the dogs and handlers to come to share about the dogs, and I was able to be there for part of the program.

Zoey, a comfort dog, is actually owned by the Concordia University Wisconsin. When she is vested, she is working, but her vest says “please pet me.” Now if she was a service dog, helping someone who is disabled in some way, the vest would say, “please don’t pet me.”

On campus, Zoey helps with counseling sessions and classroom presentations and participates in clinicals, practicums, fieldwork activities, service projects and meet and greets with prospective students. She also does library visits, is a chapel greeter and, all in all, helps students who are missing their own family pet at home.

In 2014, she received the 2014 Animal Hero Award from the Wisconsin Humane Society. Zoey is the first comfort dog placed at a university — she came there in 2014 — and is still the only comfort dog at a university. She responds to more than 50 commands. She also works outside the university, visiting nursing homes, hospitals and domestic violence shelters, to name a few.

She lives with two different families, and when not vested, she has free time to play, like any dog. Zoey has been deployed to tragedies where she is able to comfort people who are grieving.

Mary is a Kare 9 Military Ministry dog, sponsored by St. Paul Lutheran Church and School from Janesville. As such, she visits VFWs, VA hospitals, Traumatic Brain Injury Centers, homes of veterans who are homebound, Expos, Veteran Clinics and various other activities to help spread the mercy and compassion of Christ Jesus.

“A dog is a friend who brings a calming influence and allows people to open their hearts and receive help for whatever is affecting them,” explained her veteran handler.

So, while my week has gone to the dogs, my heart has also. I feel I am gone too much to have a dog of my own, but I sure enjoyed spending time with some, and learning how others can be helped by having them near.

“As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you; and you will be comforted over Jerusalem.” Isaiah 66:13