By Robert R. Schwarz
Be comforted , little dog, thou too in the Resurrection shall
have a tail of gold. ( Martin Luther )
Our German forefathers had a very kind religion. They believed
that, after death, they would meet again all the good dogs that
had been their companions in life. I wish I could believe that too.
(Otto von Bismarck,Prussian statesman )
1. Kathy and Her Hospital Therapy Dogs
|Kathy and Guinness, life-long friends|
Retired school teacher Kathy King has 70 dogs , including a Great Dane . You can see four of them go in and out of patient rooms seven days a week at Northwest Community Hospital in Arlington Heights, Illinois. There , Kathy manages the animal assisted therapy program . She is quick to tell you that she gets as many smiles from the patients as from her students who have behavioral disorders. "The smiles you get from both the hospital staff and patients when you walk into their room is a moment of joy and light, " she says .
Patient blood pressure and stress are lowered when the dog ( usually a mixed breed ) comes in, she explains. " The patients are very smoothed by petting the dog and more apt then to do what the nurse wants them to do. " When children are getting immunized, " some don't even know they are getting a shot. " One patient didn't want her hair brushed but did brush the dog . Another cooed to the dog at bedside, " You love me ? You want to stay with me?" Dogs weighing less than 50 pounds are allowed to lay on the patient's bed, which has been covered with a separate sheet. If more than 50 pounds, the dog may sit on a chair. Kathy carries a list of those patients who have indicated their desire to see a therapy dog.
As Kathy and I made rounds with her own therapy dog, " Guinness" , a Brindle hound mix, several staff members upon seeing the leashed canine, paused their work to express affection like, "Oh, what a lovable puppy ! " . ( Guinness is obviously no puppy. ) Another staff member coaxed Guinness into her office and fed him a biscuit
|One of the volunteer teams and their therapy dogs. (kneeling )|
Dennis Socha and "Flounder;" ; (back, from left ) Denise
Powers and "Axle", Kathy King, program manager, and
"Guinness"; Dawn Thompson and " Kirby"
Kathy started as a volunteer here nine years ago and has managed this program for five years. Asked what her work has meant to her , she says, " It reinforces my belief in doing something extra for others. I've always thought if you have the available time, give some of it to others. "
2. Barbara and Her Tragedy-Filled 'God ' Moments with Hannah
[ The following account was written by Ms. Barbara Granado, 68, a retired insurance company founder and volunteer for the past seven years for the Lutheran Church Charities Comfort Dog Ministry . She is a member of St. Peter Luther Church in Arlington Heights, Illinois. ]
My journey began in October , 2010 when I became the handler-trainer for a Golden retriever named Hannah. She was 10 months old and had just finished her obedience training at Dwight Women's Prison ( now closed ) in Illinois. My job was to socialize and teach her proper behavior when squirrels crossed her path or noisy trucks whizzed by or little kids wanted to climb all over her. However, it wasn’t until we were all called to Newtown, Connecticut to offer comfort to families and children in the schools and first responders [ to the shooting ] that Hannah and I learned how God was to use us.
|Barbara and" Hannah" ..." a|
bridge to love "
With my friend Sharon and Maggie , her Comfort Dog in training , Hannah and I climbed into my car and began the long trip to Sandy Hook. [ Note: A crazed 20-year-old adult on Dec. 14, 2012, entered the elementary school here and shot and killed 20 students and 6 adults. ] Quite honestly, I was very worried about how I would be able to hold up working with folks and an entire community who had suffered such an agonizing tragedy. I carry my emotions on my shirt sleeves. I was afraid I would cry and be more a burden than help. We met with teachers and families of children in the school at the time of the shooting and with police and firemen who carried out the slaughtered 6-year-olds.
We listened. We silently prayed , and when asked, openly prayed as we watched children and adults alike got down with our dogs and sobbed ; we hugged and stroked our dogs and whispered in their ears. For some children, these words whispered to the dogs ears were the first they had spoken in four days. We watched the healing begin .
When we returned to the hotel , Sharon and I sobbed. ( I am teary eyed as I type this. ) It was one of the most moving experiences of my life. Those thankful smiles and long hugs were gifts from God . We gave and received His love that week. And you know what? I didn’t breakdown as I feared I would. I learned a valuable lesson that week: Don’t be afraid when God calls . He gave us the courage and strength to do what he sent us out there to do. Just be a presence of love. The dogs were bridges to the love, compassion, and mercy only Christ can give.
|Members and dogs of the Lutheran Church Charities Comfort Dog Ministry|
pose outside a Mt. Prospect Illinois church prior to a funeral for three
family members killed in a tragic car accident . Barbara and "Hannah" are
on the far right.
Tears well up every time I think of those awesome “God Moments” I have had with the Comfort Dog Ministry. Since Sandy Hook, we have traveled to those impacted by Super Storm Sandy, the Boston Marathon bombing, the shooting at Umqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon, the Pulse night club shooting in Orlando, various tornadoes and floods, and the funerals for those taken home at young ages .
My life is forever changed. My faith is stronger knowing God uses us in many, many ways-- often in the most unexpected ways. Every time I see the smiles these dogs bring, I feel God’s endless love. [A few days after writing this, Barbara and Hannah went to a funeral of a wife , husband and their 20-year-old daughter who were tragically killed Feb. 16 when their car was hit in nearby Des Plaines by a recklessly speeding motorist. ]
3. His Mourning Over Wife's Death Eased by a Rescue Dog
[ Names have been changed, by request]
Fred 's wife of several decades died recently in a sudden, tragic accident . Deep in mourning, he went to a therapist for relief and was advised to get a dog for companionship. Fred did. When he Fred went to a canine rescue shelter, an 18-month -old dog weighing a few ounces over 12 pounds was let out of her cage and , Fred told me, ran straight to him.
Nowadays, " Toodles " jumps onto Fred's lap and cuddles with her master. When the dog stretches out her front legs, " she looks like she's praying, " Fred says. Toodles doesn't like being left alone when Fred goes shopping or to church. e loves He loves to take her daily for a half-mile walk. "She's been a big help with companionship. "
4. The Unconditional Love of Dogs
[ The following are excerpts , used with permission, are
from the internet blog " Finding Your Soul" by David Anderson. ]
On the Monday following the terrorist rampage in Orlando, a dozen Golden retrievers showed up in the Disney city. They were part of the K-9 Comfort Dogs team, a ministry run by Lutheran Church Charities. The dogs had come to give the kind of love and comfort that come only from a furry friend. There was a time when bringing in dogs to care for the emotional needs of the traumatized would have seemed odd. But now it’s common. K-9 Comfort Dogs came to the emotional rescue after the Boston Marathon bombing, after the Sandy Hook shootings. “We’ve had a lot of people here that start petting the dog, and they break out crying,” said Tim Hetzner, president of the charity. “Dogs show unconditional love.”
" Unconditional love " is a near-cliché . People use those word as if it happens naturally….In actual practice that kind of love comes easily for God and Golden retrievers, and very grudgingly for human beings. Our love comes with a lot of conditions, a lot of strings. It doesn't mean we're bad people, it just means we're human….Yet the one thing every soul seeks is simply unconditional love, where there is nothing to be earned [from it ]. So when I read stories about Golden retrievers being flown in to offer love [without strings attached ] to grieving humans, I can’t tell whether that’s a beautiful thing ( i.e. , that we’ve finally understood the emotional and spiritual capacity of our pets) or whether we have outsourced our love needs to animals because we can’t find a way to do it ourselves.….Selfless love--agape, Jesus called it--doesn't come naturally. It takes work , practice….The only beings who naturally offer unconditional love are either God or dog. If you're a human being, the only way to get there is through a lot of inner work—and a flood of grace.
When I had to put down my dog, I couldn't
stop bawling. I believe dogs go to heaven .
( Tom Stengren , a realtor and friend of mine )
5. A Priest Who Kept a Tibetan Terrier in His Office as an 'Ice Breaker '
Retired church pastor Fr. Bill Zavaski named his dog "Merton" after the celebrated monk and author Thomas Merton . Bill took the naming quite seriously. "It's like naming a child , " he said over the telephone.
|Fr. Bill Zavaski blessing one of the many dogs brought to|
him at his church's animal blessing day . Dogs "are
eager to love," he believes.
Three years ago , if you were a visitor to the priest's parish office in Arlington Heights, you would either see Merton nestled someplace on the floor or schlepping in the hallway as if the building were his kennel kingdom. In Bill's office, Merton would remind the priest that his dog's ancestors were once used to guard the Dali Lama. But Merton's real value to Bill—and why Bill loved him—was two-fold ; in the office Merton's presence would put at ease the visitor who entered with delicate matters on his or her mind. He was an "ice-breaker," Bill said, and then added how walking Merton three times daily gave him extra time to think and pray over spiritual issues.
"He was a great companion, " Bill said. " One grows very affectionate for a dog. " When Bill went on a mission to India a year ago, Merton contacted some "form of rare illness" and died before his master's return. Bill eulogized Merton with a quote from Fr. Richard Rohr, a globally recognized author and ecumenical teacher who believed that dogs have souls: Merton was eager to love.
6. ' Midnight' Brings Light and Peace to the Kids She Teaches
An eight-year-old greyhound with a mix of Labrador retriever has been an indispensable teaching aid to Laurie Stutzman, a retired juvenile probation officer who now is a "life coach" who, says she , imparts the importance of "mind, spirit, and body" to students from pre-school to high school. Midnight, she says with pride, "gives them a sense of peace and clam. The kids sense her love."
|Laurie and "Midnight" , who "brings peace to kids "|
Laurie, 56, a Lake Zurich, Illinois resident, today uses her teaching skills and the discipline she has taught Midnight to help students in suburban Chicago who are challenged with autism, anxiety, and Down syndrome. These are skills she acquired after working professionally for 30 years in helping kids who had weathered both drug addiction and court appearances. For the past seven years, Laurie has worked with incarcerated , drug-addicted youths as in-patients and out-patients . " Midnight imparts to them a sense of living in the present, " she says. Laurie is a court-certified family therapist with a master's degree in guidance and counseling.
"I love doing my work," she says. "Midnight helps bring peace to the kids . They feel good when they pet her. " Her printed flyer states: Healing starts today.
7. This Lutheran Pastor Shepherds His Flock with German Shepherds
( Note: The following was written, at my request,
by the Rev. Hicham Chehab, an ordained
Lutheran Minister who converted to Christianity
after fighting alongside the Lebanese militia
several years ago. Today he pastors the Salam
Christian Fellowship in Lombard, Illinois. )
'A Dog's Love Is Like God's Love'
Three winters ago, I received a call from a German Shepherd breeder in McHenry, Illinois, whom I met at a church. He said that he had a 10- year- old dog, and he had no place for him. He also had a frost bite on his right hind leg and tail. I thought: If I do not take him, he would spend that winter outside, in the snow. At the age of 10, he may not survive.
|The Rev. Hicham Chehab with "Sammie"|
That dog was Utah, a 110- pound, pitch black German Shepherd, and the great grandfather of Sammie , one of the other two shepherds I had.
One of the parishioners in McHenry who knew Utah, told me that Utah was a “gentle giant,” and said that I would not regret taking him in. It was true. Immediately, Utah got along with Winnie and Sammie.
We have a fenced backyard, so it was not difficult to give Utah some room to walk around off leash. But he would walk around, but always come back and look me in the eye.
Utah loved riding in vehicles, especially my motor home. I took him camping twice. The pack and I walked in the woods, and had a dip in the river. Driving back from the camping ground in Yorkville, Illinois, Utah did something surprising. He jumped into the front seat and rode "shotgun"—as Wild West stagecoach drivers would say—keeping a sleepy eye on me while I drove.
After two weeks, I was sitting on my couch in the basement when I heard loud shuffling steps coming down the basement stairwell. It was Utah tumbling down like a bear. He came into the basement, and jumped on my lap.
Since that time, until his death, Utah and I bonded together. As we walked in parks and campgrounds, Utah would always stay at a short distance and keep his eyes on me, even when the other two dogs drifted away. Everyone who observed Utah’s behavior told me: “Boy, this dog loves you! ”
Once, in a Bible study , I gave this as an example for waiting on the Lord. I believe that a disciple of Jesus should wait on his Lord and Savior like a dog waits on his master . I also believe that a dog’s love is like God’s love. It is an unconditional love. A dog’s affection is without any limitations and without conditions. A dog’s love is truly altruistic. It is a complete love which has no bounds and is unchanging, like God’s love. Dog’s love is like that love among family members, and comrades in arms fighting in the same battlefield. A dog’s love is like a parent's love for their child; no matter what the child does, the amount of love that remains among the family members is unchanging and unconditional. Unconditional love is only possible because God loved us first.
Unconditional love between man and dog is affection and friendship. Dogs may be the only animals that display unconditional love. In this sense, they have a sliver of God’s image in them.
|At the Illinois Fox River with his canine flock of three : Winnie shown|
behind the pastor, Utah exiting out of the river, and Sammie out swimming.
Unconditional love between man and dog is affection and friendship. Dogs may be the only animals that display unconditional love. In this sense, they have a sliver of God’s image in them.
My three dogs (now two dogs) have been for three years my coast- to- coast travel companions as I drive to different churches throughout the United States to preach the Gospel and talk about God’s Grace in my life. Walking with them in uncharted wooded territories during my travels, sharpens my mind and soul. Even when I go to seminary for my Ph.D courses, the dogs camp with me on campus. As soon as I finish my class in the late afternoon, I take them for a walk along the Fort Wayne River in Indiana. It's a walk that refreshes my mind and my soul.
Nobody but the dogs would camp with me in the snow. They would be so excited that their hysterical excitement would warm up the sub-zero weather for me.
A dog’s unconditional love provides me with a glimpse of true humanity , which cannot exist without loving others as yourself. That bond between man and dog seems to derive from our Creator who connects us all. Whether you are a creationist or an evolutionist, you would have to acknowledge this connection between Man and dog that developed through thousands of years of symbiosis.
8. Dogs Who Trained Me ( a few closing comments from Bob Schwarz )
I've had "best friends" throughout most of my eight-decade life span. They and other dogs I have known have taught me how to be more alive within the spiritual dimension of my life . ( I deeply appreciate those individuals who have kindly and so thoughtfully made possible this report about love affairs with our dogs.
|Bob Schwarz with his " trainers" Curry ( left) and Moses.|
My "first affair " was with Rusty, the American water spaniel who my parents unloaded early one morning from a railroad express crate and carried him into my brother's and my bedroom where the puppy, with a vigorously wagging tail, brought us from sleep into an outpouring of joy. Later, into young married life came Moses and, afterwards, Luther, two German shepherds. Moses became our night guard in our Hell's Kitchen ( New York City ) apartment, and Luther, years later, became my roughhousing buddy in suburbia. And then Bonnie, my parents' Airedale whom I got to know quite well when she defended us from a deadly copperhead snake . Lastly was Currie, a Wheaton Terrier , cranky but no less lovable than the others.
Another word is needed for Bonnie….My parents had her as a gentle house pet on their small "ranch" in a remote part of western Arkansas where I went for some R&R during my Army days as a draftee. One morning while in the backyard with Mom and Dad , I noticed a copperhead snake slithering towards a nearby bush. Seeing no weapon about me, I dashed to the porch door , opened it and shouted, " Bonnie ! " Reacting instinctively to danger sounded by my voice, she ran out and immediately spotted the snake, a creature she had never encountered before .
|Rusty, Bob's first 'love affair. '|
Dogs: No moods ( except for Curry ) . No attitudes. No days-off. They taught (trained?) me to be much more obedient to the Master of the Universe, to try harder to trust Him in all dangers, and to be more willing to show affection and loyalty to my loved ones.
I hope you'll will read the final part of this report ; it's about a deaf-blind man who graduated (!) from college , married a deaf woman and became a father, and went on to own his own company—all with the help his Leader dog , Dinah. ( I observed the training of this man and his dog , and their final exam was quite dramatic. )
[ This ends part one . Part two
will be posted March 12 ]
All comments are welcome.
© 2017 Robert R. Schwarz