Comfort Dogs help hurting school heal

The Lutheran Foundation

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local churches and schools

raise awareness of the Comfort Dog program

Emmanuel – St. Michael Lutheran School principal Jacob Pennekamp knew about Lutheran Church Charities’ Comfort Dogs ministry, but didn’t consider it something he would ever utilize.

Then he met Luther.

The dog came to The Lutheran Foundation with Lutheran Church Charities president Tim Hetzner for his presentation on the program at our January grant workshop.

“My mind immediately went towards all the different forms of trauma that I know our families and kids are going through,” Pennekamp says of seeing Luther in action. “I started thinking about ways it could be applied in our current ministry.”

Eleven days later, another opportunity presented itself when Michelle Wolfer, the art teacher at Pennekamp’s school, lost her battle with cancer. The next week, Comfort Dogs were on site at the Emmanuel – St. Michael campus to comfort students and staff.

“I just thought, if it did nothing else but give the kids something to look forward to when they came to school that day, it would be worth it,” he says.

an Emmanuel – St. Michael student hugs a Comfort Dog

an Emmanuel – St. Michael student hugs a Comfort Dog

It did that and more. “Everybody had a positive experience with the dog,” says Pennekamp. “Everybody walked away excited and smiling.”

In the following days, he heard back from several parents who were thankful that the school was working to find different ways to care for their children. “Thanks for understanding that my child is hurting,” one told him.

“They appreciated that there was a reason for their kid to smile and come home with a good story about the day,” Pennekamp says.

Because there aren’t any Comfort Dogs currently based in Northeast Indiana, Lutheran Church Charities dispatched one animal from Portage, Indiana and another from Toledo. After experiencing what they brought to Pennekamp’s school during such a difficult time, he’s convinced that The Lutheran Foundation’s ten-county area would benefit from churches or schools having their own Comfort Dogs.

“I think there is plenty of potential need for the kind of grief care and support that we saw expressed to us,” he says. “It would also be a great opportunity to show and express the kind of care that I think Lutherans have become known for in this community.”