Lutheran Church Charities Comfort Dog Ministry

Lutheran Church Charities Comfort Dog Ministry is a national ministry that uses purebred Golden Retrievers to bring comfort. Currently, there are over 130 L.C.C. Comfort Dogs serving in more than 20 states. L.C.C. operates two training facilities in Illinois and Nebraska.

According to Don Moeller, the idea for the L.C.C. Comfort Dogs ministry began in 2005 with Hurricane Katrina. L.C.C. emergency response teams noticed that while many agencies helped the people devastated by such natural disasters family pets were often neglected. At that time, Lutheran Church Charities acquired several pure bred Golden Retrievers.

Three years later, when a shooting happened at Northern Illinois University where a number of students were killed, those Golden Retrievers were invited to the university to help comfort the students. And so began the use by L.C.C. of Golden Retrievers for comfort.

Moeller personally got involved in 2013. He accompanied several handlers of a L.C.C. comfort dog named Moses on various deployments including that of a suicide of a young man who had been bullied. These deployments led him to inquire about getting a L.C.C. Comfort Dog for his own church and on June 15, 2014, his church became the owner of a L.C.C. Comfort Dog.

ALLISON: What is involved with training dogs as a comfort dog?

DON: The demand for an L.C.C. Comfort Dog is great and a church may have a several year wait to acquire one for their congregation. There are two locations that train the dogs. One in Northbrook, Illinois and the other is in Grand Island, Nebraska. The dogs are all purebred Golden Retrievers and training starts when they are around eight weeks old. It is estimated that each dog has over 2,000 hours of training before they become a L.C.C. Comfort Dog. The dogs themselves have to pass tough American Kennel Club tests before they can wear the vest of a L.C.C. Comfort Dog.

ALLISON: Five dogs are being trained so that they can work out of 5 different churches from across the nation. How are dogs prepared for this enormous responsibility?

DON: Presently there are just over 100 dogs in about 25 states that are L.C.C. Comfort Dogs. A L.C.C. Comfort Dog responds to 34 commands. During training they are exposed to all kinds of environments, surfaces and conditions. They are also introduced to all kinds of sounds from gunshots to heavy equipment, other animals and people of all ages and personalities. They are also familiarized to different types of transportation such as airplanes, buses, cars, trucks and the like.

ALLISON: Five dogs are being trained so that they can work out of 5 different churches from across the nation. How are dogs prepared for this enormous responsibility?

DON: Presently there are just over 100 dogs in about 25 states that are L.C.C. Comfort Dogs. A L.C.C. Comfort Dog responds to 34 commands. During training they are exposed to all kinds of environments, surfaces and conditions. They are also introduced to all kinds of sounds from gunshots to heavy equipment, other animals and people of all ages and personalities. They are also familiarized to different types of transportation such as airplanes, buses, cars, trucks, and the like.

ALLISON: What are the main differences between a comfort dog and a therapy dog?

DON: L.C.C. Comfort Dogs are different from therapy dogs in that they have much more training. L.C.C. Comfort dogs training takes anywhere from 14 to 16 months and have to pass multiple tests. They are a working dog. A therapy dog is a great dog but it may have a much shorter training period (as short as a week) and a therapy dog usually just has to pass a test called a Canine Good Citizen test.

ALLISON: Where do you find dogs for your program?

DON: The dogs for this program come from specific purebred Golden Retriever breeders from across the United States. The pups meet certain pedigree and breeding requirements before they are considered and implemented into the training program.

ALLISON: What’s it like to be a caregiver for a comfort dog?

DON: A caregiver for a L.C.C. Comfort Dog must be willing to dedicate themselves to the program and should always be training the dog on a daily basis. In addition, the caregiver must keep the dog in top physical condition. Continual dog grooming and hygiene is also an important aspect of being a caregiver.

ALLISON: What are the most typical places comfort dogs are taken? The most unusual places?

DON: A L.C.C. Comfort Dog has a weekly calendar and most of the dogs are busy almost every day of the week. On a local basis dogs will visit schools, retirement homes, hospitals, first responders, local tragedies like suicides, deaths, and other types of local tragedies. The dogs also get deployed to national tragedies. Some of which have included most of the school shootings from Sandy Hook to parkland in Florida. Other shootings such as the Pulse night club in Orlando, Florida and the concert at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas. Hurricanes and floods like those in Baton Rouge and Houston are also places the dogs have been to. There are more types of tragedies they have gone to, but the major thing to know is that a L.C.C. Comfort Dog does not go anywhere unless they are “invited by the community” to come.

ALLISON: What are some of your memorable moments?

DON: There have been so many memorable moments with this program. Just seeing people responding to a dog and the comfort a dog gives is always inspirational. It is a proven fact that people will many times respond to an animal before they will to another human. A person petting a dog will have his or her system relax. In fact their blood pressure will go down an average of 10 points.

ALLISON: Can one get their own comfort dog?

DON: The dogs do not become the property of an individual as they are owned by a church. If a church is accepted after applying for a L.C.C. Comfort Dog, the church develops a human team to be handlers for the dog. Then that team will go to Northbrook, Illinois to be trained to handle a L.C.C. comfort Dog.

ALLISON: Why should someone become an apprentice trainer?

DON: We are always looking for good apprentice trainers to help train a pup to become a L.C.C. Comfort Dog. We will teach an interested person how to train a dog to such a level. The benefits of an apprentice trainer is knowing the dog you are training will become an important part of multiple lives many places in the United States.

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