Four-year-old Cubby came to Redeemer Lutheran Church in Fort Collins, Colorado, three years ago as part of the Lutheran Church Charities (LCC) K-9 Comfort Dog Ministry.
LCC places trained Golden Retrievers in churches and schools as an outreach ministry to comfort lonely and grieving people in the local community. The dogs and their handlers are also on call to support people following regional and national crises and disasters.
Six months after LCC K-9 Comfort Dog Cubby joined the Redeemer family, she and two of her handlers were off to Roseburg, Oregon, to comfort students, faculty and first responders following a shooting at Umpqua Community College. Upon returning home, Cubby's handlers shared their stories about how Cubby and her canine colleagues led the way in helping ease the pain amid a community filled with disbelief and grief.
"After listening to them, I felt God's presence and his nudge to check out this ministry," says Thrivent member Bonnie Fear. Bonnie wondered: Can a dog really be the bridge to open up conversation with those who are hurting and in crisis? To Bonnie, the answer was an easy "yes."
Bonnie's calling unleashed
Just a week or so later, she attended a comfort dog team meeting at the church. Shortly after that, Bonnie found herself in Grand Island, Nebraska, at an intensive two-day training session to become one of Cubby's handlers. "I never looked back," she says. That was in late 2015.
Redeemer's Comfort Dog Ministry Team consists of many volunteers, with Cubby at the helm. The team includes handlers, like Bonnie, who accompany Cubby on scheduled visits and deployments, Cubby's caregiver – another handler Cubby lives with – who tends to her daily needs, ministry helpers, schedulers, social media and communications team members as well as prayer partners.
Bonnie is also Cubby's "Top Dog" – a title that comes with a weekly commitment of five to 15 hours, and a compassion for helping people in crisis.
Grace for the grief-stricken
Bonnie's first out-of-state deployment with Cubby was to Orlando in June 2016, following the Pulse nightclub shooting. Two months later, she and Cubby consoled residents and first responders after massive flooding in Baton Rouge.
In September of 2017 Cubby and two of her handlers drove to Houston in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. Shortly after that in October, Bonnie, Cubby and team were sent to Las Vegas following the Mandalay Bay concert shooting. Most recently, they were dispatched to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, after the February 2018 shooting there.
Deployments under such stressful situations can take a toll on Cubby and her team.
"I don't sleep a lot when I'm deployed," Bonnie says. "While extremely rewarding, it's physically and mentally demanding at the same time. When we're on assignment, our team debriefs every day. We also debrief at length after every deployment to ensure we are emotionally cared for after seeing and hearing such heartbreaking stories."
"Just showing up and being present provides people with comfort." – Thrivent member Bonnie Fear
Comfort, close to home
The team is happy to serve far and wide. But their primary purpose is closer to home.
Cubby and Bonnie visit a local hospital almost every Friday. "Once patients see Cubby, their faces light up. They get this big smile and then just melt when she puts her head on their lap or on the side of the bed," Bonnie says.
"We often hear people say, 'this was the best part of my day,' or 'this really made my day,'" Bonnie continues. "It's those brief moments that reassure us what we do makes a difference. Just showing up and being present provides people with comfort. It's that easy!"
And that's what keeps Bonnie and LCC K-9 Comfort Dog Cubby and all of her handlers going. "We know we are in this ministry bringing the mercy, compassion, presence and proclamation of Jesus Christ to those who are suffering and in need," Bonnie says. "It's my calling to help people cope with loss."
Help Cubby, her team deliver comfort
LCC relies exclusively on the support of generous donors to run its K-9 ministry. If you would like to help, you can make a personal donation.
If you're an eligible Thrivent member with Choice Dollars® available, you can direct them to the Lutheran Church Charities Fund to help support their ministries including K-9 Comfort Dog Ministry.
If you're a Thrivent member and are interested in raising funds to support the Lutheran Church Charities K-9 Comfort Dog Ministry, apply to lead a Thrivent Action Team.