PORTAGE | The Reverend Tim Engel, pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Portage, and golden retriever Barnabus the Comfort Dog were guest presenters at the February 20 breakfast meeting of the Portage Exchange Club.
Engel told the club about Lutheran Church Charities K-9 Comfort Dogs ministry and how the dogs are brought to emergency situations to help provide warmth and peace to victims and emergencies workers alike. The ministry uses golden retrievers because by nature and through training they are very calm dogs.
Lutheran Church Charities has been involved in the Comfort Dogs ministry for five years. In that time, the number of dogs has grown from four to over 60 dogs in eight states, mostly in the Midwest.
Prince is Barnabus’s co-companion Comfort Dog at Holy Cross. He goes to work with PHS Home School Advisor Tim Kunstek, who describes Prince as “the best counseling tool I’ve ever had.”
Barnabus is the third dog that has served in Holy Cross. Although he often goes on rounds with Pastor Engel to schools, hospitals, nursing homes and shut-ins, he lives with congregational members Dan and Karen Fulkerson. The Fulkersons have had him since November 2010, when they picked him up in Tulsa, Oklahoma. They have trained him to be a Comfort Dog. He was named Barnabus after the Biblical companion of Paul the Apostle. The name means “encourager.”
“Every generation has had its ‘Barney,’” Engel said. “For this generation it’s Barney the Purple Dinosaur. We had Barney Rubble and Barney Fife. Perhaps some of you remember Barney Google with the goo-goo-googly eyes. It’s just a friendly name.”
Prince and Barnabus traveled with their human companions to the east coast to help comfort victims of Hurricane Sandy. They had just returned home when the tragedy in Newtown, New Jersey, occurred. A total of 10 dogs from various churches went to comfort the kids and adults following the massacre of 26 elementary school children and staff.
“On Sunday, we had five minutes of live coverage by CNNs Don Lemon,” Engel said. “Lemon reported that ‘up until the dogs walked in, there was nothing to smile about.’ The dogs rekindled hope and joy just by being there.
“On Tuesday, eight of the dogs were lie on NBCs Today Show with correspondent Jill Rappaport. It shows what calm dogs they are that they weren’t upset or excited by all the activity and all the people in the TV station.
“Our work began in earnest at the high school,” Engel continued. “There were 1800 students and about 200 staff members in the gymnasium. The two predominant emotions in the room were grief and anger until the dogs arrived. The place erupted in applause then. Hope and joy walked in on four legs. There was a sense that ‘maybe it won’t always hurt this badly.’”
Although many of the students were not ready to talk to the counselors or ministers, many came to pet the dogs.
“Emotionally, petting a dog is refreshing. Physiologically, it lowers stress by lowering cortisol and raises endomorphins. It just helps our bodies and minds to feel better,” Engel explained.
“We go to all kinds of disasters—floods, earthquakes, hurricanes—where there is so much destruction and little is left intact. But this was a different kind of disaster. It was a man-made disaster. Someone chose to do evil that day—someone from their community. Everything was intact except for the people.
“As events like this occur, God still can provide opportunities for us to do good, for us to show care and concern, for us to be His hands and feet on earth. The dogs help us do that.”
Barnabus is still a young dog, but Prince will be retiring from his position as a parish Comfort Dog at the end of this school year. Holy Cross is in the process of raising funds to purchase a new dog. They have raised a little over half of the $10,000 required.
To find out more about the Comfort Dogs ministry or to make a donation toward their fund, please see Prince’s (http://www.facebook.com/pages/Prince-Comfort-Dog) and Barnabus’s (http://www.facebook.com/BarnabasComfortDog) Facebook pages or contact Pastor Engel at 763-6343.