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Learning Center Experience
Michelle Lynne March, Human Services Adjunct Instructor, School of
Social and Behavioral Sciences
When you hear of tragedies, such as the recent
Boston Marathon bombing, the Prescott, Arizona wildfires, or other national
tragedies, what do you think of?
As a psychologist, an immediate
response is to volunteer services to those who experience such devastation. The
field of human services is generally defined with
the goal of meeting the needs of
and helping improve the overall quality of
life. Therefore, professionals, as well as service comfort dogs, are trained at
various levels to implement specialized techniques with aspiration to minimize problems—addressing
anger, sorrow, physical fragilities, and comforting individuals in dealing with
the logistical and emotional challenges faced. This support enhances a sense of
security to initiate resilience and reach aftermath goals.
Various services are rendered
by professionals within the field of human services in response to such tragic
experiences; however, the service of dogs is rarely identified. Service dogs, such
as the Mobility Assistance Dogs, Emergency Medical Response Dogs, Psychiatric Assistance Dogs, Autism
Assistance Dogs, Therapeutic Companion Dogs, and Comfort Dogs, deliver a
variety of tasks to individuals in the community for different needs. Tasks
include retrieving out-of-reach items, responding to seizures, assisting
individuals suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder, locating individuals
on command, visiting locations to provide therapeutic interventions, and giving
unconditional love. A dog is recognized as a service animal under title II
(State and local government services) and title III (public accommodations and
commercial facilities) of the American with Disabilities Act (ADA).1
Among the many
organizations that train service dogs to help in the community, the Lutheran
Church Charities’ (LCC) K-9 Parish Comfort Dog Ministry is a national ministry that
trains golden retrievers “comfort dogs” to show compassion through the comfort
of others. The goal of LCC is to have at minimum one dog in each state to allow
for quick response. As timing is crucial when attending disasters, comfort dogs
are not deployed unless they are invited.
The Dwight Correctional
Center, a recently-closed maximum security prison for adult females, was a
location where dogs were trained. Interested inmates would apply to be trained
handlers to work with the dogs. The dogs remained with the women 24/7 up until
the dogs were approximately 11 months old and ready to be placed out in the
community. Golden retrievers were chosen to be K-9 comfort dogs because they
are approachable, have calm temperaments, and are quick to learn—allowing them
to train easily. The dogs are selected as early as 5-½ weeks old and begin to
train at 8 weeks (D.Kinne, personal communication, June 30, 2013).
Benefits K-9 comfort dogs bring to communities include:
When comfort dogs of LLC
are working, they wear a signature blue vest. The vest states the dog’s name
and the words “Please Pet Me.” When the vest is on, the dog is working for the
next 2 to 3 hours (D. Kinne, personal communication, June 29, 2013).
Ladel, a trained, certified
comfort dog, belongs to St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church of Hawthorn Woods, Ilinois,
an Affiliate Comfort Dog Ministry of LCC.
Ladel is always ready to work alongside other comfort dogs and their handlers to
give all her love, unconditionally. “Through her gentleness, Ladel is universal medicine to those who she
meets…lifting spirits, sparking memories, stimulating minds, bringing
comfort…often helping many ‘open up’ in a way they are not able to with others.”3
Ladel is very active not only nationally providing comfort when disaster
strikes, but also locally as she regularly attends community events, schools
(including special needs classes), churches, libraries, nursing homes and
assisted care facilities, youth group activities, and veterans events. In addition, Ladel interacts in celebrations
or funerals, helps people struggling through grief/loss, and works alongside
counselors and disaster volunteers of various professions who actively service
individuals of all walks of life and measures.
In this brief review of how
service dogs help individuals in our
or complement intervention with those who provide public service, comfort dogs like Ladel offer
a healing power to victims who experience devastating life events. It is a unique
intervention, and for many petting a dog enhances a sense of calmness to
process whatever experience one might face and identify what they are missing. Comfort
dogs are always present in time of need and location to provide true
unconditional support to victims; hence, there are generalizations across the assistance of the various
services carried out from such loving companions to fields of
study within human services and how individuals are
publicly served. It is important to remember the importance of service dogs in
the community and the dimensions for which they provide their constant,
unconditional comfort—assisting mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual growth.
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