Reporting Steve Grzanich
CHICAGO (CBS) – A suburban church with a team of four-legged ministers has been dispatched to Oklahoma to help victims of this week’s tornado disaster.
A group of dogs and their handlers left early Tuesday from Addison-based Lutheran Church Charities Comfort Dog Ministry. The group was expected to arrive Tuesday night in Moore.
“They’re trained to just be there and show mercy, compassion and love,” says LCC K-9 Comfort Dog Ministry President Tim Hetzner. He says the specially-trained Golden Retrievers are perfect for the job of just being there for people in need.
“Golden Retrievers by nature are lovers. Our dogs are trained to just be calm for people to pet,” says Hetzner. “When you pet a dog it lowers your blood pressure and makes you feel secure. They’re confidential, they don’t keep notes and they’re good listeners.”
The LCC K-9 Comfort Dogs received an invitation from a church in Oklahoma and will deploy with six to ten dogs. They will remain in the disaster zone for at least a week or more. Hetzner says the dogs help victims in ways humans cannot.
“They (victims) don’t need someone to try and explain what’s happened. They need people to listen,” says Hetzner. “When people start petting the dogs, they show no emotion at first because they’re still stunned by what has happened or they’re sad. But as they keep petting the dogs, we see smiles come onto their face and they start feeling like they will get through this and they will be ok. Yes, there was loss but we will grow through that and be stronger.”
The comfort dog program began in 2008 when Lutheran Church Charities members responded with their dogs to the shooting at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb to help students after a gunman killed five people. Since then, they’ve been on the road a lot traveling from one disaster and tragedy to another.
In recent months, dogs have been dispatched to Newtown, Conn following the school shooting, to New York and New Jersey for Hurricane Sandy and to Boston following the marathon bombing. The program now includes more than 70 dogs in eight states.
“They’ve had miles,” says Hetzner. Several of them also have previous tornado experience, having been in Joplin, Mo after the devastating twister in 2011. He says the dogs have been of great comfort to the young and old alike following some very tragic events.
“Our dogs have helped families process overwhelming loss and they show unconditional love. Many times they will lay down and people will lay down on top of them.”
The LCC K-9 Comfort Dogs will visit shelters in Moore and other sites where tornado damage occurred. They will also meet with victims and first responders at the University of Oklahoma.