Friday, April 26, 2013

LCC K-9 Comfort Dogs Bring Peace and Healing to the Grieving in Boston and Texas

K-9 Comfort Dogs Ruthie and Luther, along
with team members Rich and Dona Martin,
visit with Lee Ann Yanni, a survivor of the
bombings in Boston, just before she under-
went surgery to repair her shattered leg.

After ministering to those shaken by the bombings along the route of the Boston Marathon, specially trained therapy dogs have been deployed to help those struggling to recover from the fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas.

The dogs and their handlers are members of the Lutheran Church Charities K-9 Comfort Dog team that is headquartered just outside of Chicago. In Boston and in Texas, these Golden Retrievers and their handlers have come alongside victims, families, first responders, medical personnel, public works employees, school children and just folks on the streets who are in need of some unconditional love, non-judgmental ears, and what Tim Hetzner, President of the LCC, calls “furry counseling.”

Luther and Ruthie, bags packed, ready to deploy.
The program was born in 2008 in the wake of a number of tragedies including Hurricane Katrina and the shooting at Northern Illinois University. It began with only four dogs. Now there are 67. The dogs and their handlers were in Newtown, Connecticut following the shootings at the Sandy Hook Elementary School and they came alongside flood victims in Roanoke, Illinois. When they are not responding to a crisis, teams are deployed to hospitals, nursing homes, schools, and other places to make comfort visits.

Tim Hetzner, President of Lutheran
Church Charities. 
In Episode 24, I speak with Tim Hetzner, who led the team in West, Texas and who was also with the team deployed to Boston. Tim shares stories from the ministry in these cities and recounts how the dogs have been able to break through to help people move toward healing. Often, individuals will begin by petting the dogs and hugging them. Then the tears and the worry-filled and pain-filled words follow. 

While in Boston, the team spent time working at the First Lutheran Church which sits very near the finish line of the Marathon. The Wednesday Night Runners' Club of Boston, most of whom were marathoners from Monday's race, were among those who came by to talk through the events of the week and to work through their thoughts and feelings together as a group with the K-9 Comfort Dogs. Wherever the team went they helped provide a respite area, a place to step away from the fear and sadness to work through the healing process individually or in groups.

Home base for the team in Texas is Waco's St. Paul Lutheran Church but a good bit of the ministry has been done in the local schools and with university students shaken to the core by the disaster.
Bringing comfort.

Each of the dogs in the program, including those deployed to Boston and Texas, has its own Facebook page. Home page for all is: more information on the Comfort Dogs visit:

All photos provided by Lutheran Church Charities.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Pawsitive Partners Prison Program

Photo provided by
Monty's Home
In Episode 25, the focus is on the Pawsitive Partners Prison Program, which is operated under the umbrella of Monty's Home. This North Carolina-based organization was inspired into being by the love and generous spirit of Monty, a dearly loved therapy dog and canine star who brought sunshine into the lives of many.

This precious golden retriever spent hours each week visiting nursing homes and hospitals in southeastern North Carolina and his remarkable ability to stir up joy in human hearts eventually brought him to the attention of the nation. After he succumbed to cancer, the love of his human companion, Barb Raab, led her to create an organization in his memory and today, through Monty's Home, sunshine continues to be shed on dogs and human beings through efforts like the Pawsitive Partners Prison Program.

In this episode, I chat with Barb who explains the process involved in selecting dogs from kill shelters to undergo training in preparation for adoption into permanent homes. We hear how, after undergoing temperament evaluations, heartworm testing, spaying/neutering, microchipping and vaccinations, each new "class" of dogs moves into the Pender Correctional Institution in Burgaw where they are trained by specially-screened inmates over a period of eight weeks. Upon graduation, the dogs go home to their adoptive families.

Goodbye Hug. Photo provided
by Monty's Home.
Nearly 100 dogs have been successfully placed in loving homes and preliminary nationwide studies are suggesting that the recidivism rate of inmates participating in programs of this type is significantly reduced. Pawsitive Partners is credited with not only saving the lives of canines but saving the lives of humans as well.

The episode begins with Barb's recounting of life with Monty and moves on through some of the high points and most memorable moments that Barb, program volunteers, dogs and inmates have experienced through Pawsitive Partners over the years.