Canine Comfort Ministry

When a May 2011 tornado wiped out portions of Joplin, Missouri, Immanuel Lutheran Church used comfort dogs to soothe traumatized community members. 

Also known as crisis response dogs, comfort dogs receive training to console people in a variety of settings, including schools, libraries, health-care facilities, disaster zones and mass shooting sites. 

“We had never heard of comfort dogs before. [We] didn’t really know what they were,” recalls Jason Glaskey, youth and family minister at Immanuel Lutheran, which has an average weekend attendance of 200. “But we invited them in, and we saw how much of an effect they had on the people who were coming to our church’s relief center after the tornado. People would stop and pet the comfort dogs who were there, and you could see the relief and the release in their emotional state.”

By the end of summer 2011, the Immanuel Lutheran staff decided to start a full-time comfort dog ministry. With comfort dogs Louie and Jackson, the church not only helped community members recover from the tornado, but also visited public schools, nursing homes and hospitals with the animals. Today, their latest comfort dog, Daniel, is a young Golden Retriever. 

 “Our ministry is all 100% purebred Golden Retrievers, because they’re a very calm breed,” Debra Baran, communications director for Lutheran Church Charities, says, “They love to be petted, and they’re very trainable. Our dogs, they just want to be there next to you.”

 Daniel turned two in January and is named after Daniel 12:3: Those who are wise will shine as bright as the sky, and those who lead many to righteousness will shine like the stars forever.” 

About a dozen people at the church manage Daniel. The dog also has two families that care for him when he’s off duty. So far in his young career, Daniel has visited hospitals, nursing homes and schools. 

“We get to begin our work of visiting with people and sharing the mercy and compassion of Jesus with people who are suffering and in need,” Glaskey says.

Nadra Kareem Nittle
Nadra Kareem Nittletwitter.com/NadraKareem

Nadra Kareem Nittle has written for Outreach magazine since 2009. She has written about faith and other issues for a number of publications and websites, including the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education, About.com's Race Relations website, TheLoop21.com, PRISM magazine and the Inland Valley Times. She lives with her husband in Los Angeles.