How the LCC K-9 Comfort Dogs help heal communities

When communities need support, Lutheran Church Charities lends a helping paw.

By Dawn Bernatz

At Church Mutual Insurance Company, S.I.1, we are privileged to work with amazing customers who support their communities and elevate the human condition. Lutheran Church Charities is a great example.

After a tragedy, when a community’s need for support is especially great, we don’t always have the capacity to bring peace to everyone who needs it — after all, we’re only human. That’s where the Lutheran Church Charities (LCC) K-9 Comfort Dogs come in.

“Our dogs are truly focused to be present and to comfort,” said LCC board member Lynda Streich. “Lutheran Church Charities’ mission is to share the mercy, compassion, presence and proclamation of Jesus Christ to those suffering and in need. Our Comfort Dogs ministries really allow us to do that.”

In 2008, LCC created the K-9 Comfort Dogs program to build a bridge for compassionate ministry through the uniquely calming nature of dogs — specifically, purebred golden retrievers. Trained from puppyhood to 2-years-old, dogs learn to sense when humans need support so they can provide comfort to communities, in good times and bad. The Comfort Dogs program has more than 130 dogs across 26 states that routinely visit nursing homes, police stations, schools and churches in communities going through a crisis.

Dogs like Charity (pictured above) have been providing moments of relief to people throughout the U.S. for years. When on deployment, the dogs come ready to be hugged, petted and snuggled by people who need it most. “We often find people just draping themselves on the dogs and loving the dog to death because they’re going through some real tough times,” said Gary Kilvinger, one of Charity’s handlers.

“When Charity puts that vest on, she’s punching in for work. She takes on a lot of emotions in that vest,” said Becky Kilvinger, who manages Charity and her team of handlers. The team has traveled across the country with Charity, from Uvalde, Texas, and Surfside, Fla., to their own backyard in Waukesha, Wisc., after a vehicle struck and killed several people in the local Christmas parade. “Charity has been on many deployments,” Becky said. “But it’s tough to be deployed in your own community, because you think nothing can happen so close to home. But we responded quickly and we said, ‘well, we’d better get to work.’”

After the incident, Clarendon Avenue School principal Andrea Kaplan found out one of her school’s students had been killed. Almost immediately, Charity and a team of comfort dogs were called in to support students and staff. Principal Kaplan recalled the incredible impact the dogs made from first glance. “The moment the kids and staff laid eyes on them, you could see the light through the sadness. You could see a calming effect,” she said. “The dogs have this connection with no words — it was just amazing.”

“Emotions were really high amongst all the people in the building,” said school psychologist Brittany Sadorf. “I really feel like the comfort dogs and Charity helped get us through it.”

No matter the situation, LCC K-9 staff and the comfort dogs are committed to helping people release their emotions — through moments of joy, tears, and anything in between. “It’s all part of the healing process, to be there to help them and to allow the emotions to happen,” Becky said. “That’s why we do what we do: to change someone else’s world.”

Learn more about the LCC K-9 Comfort Dogs Ministry.

Protect your organization with an insurer dedicated to elevating the human condition and protecting the greater good.

Dawn Bernatz is AVP – Corporate Communications.

© 2023 Church Mutual Insurance Company, S.I.

1Church Mutual is a stock insurer whose policyholders are members of the parent mutual holding company formed on 1/1/20. S.I. = a stock insurer.


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