Service Comfort Dogs

The Benefits They Bring to Communities

 By Dr. Michelle Lynne March, Human Services Adjunct Instructor, School of Social and Behavioral Sciences

When you hear of tragedies, such as the recent Boston Marathon bombing, the Prescott, Arizona wildfires, or other national tragedies, what do you think of?

As a psychologist, an immediate response is to volunteer services to those who experience such devastation. The field of human services is generally defined with the goal of meeting the needs of individuals and helping improve the overall quality of life. Therefore, professionals, as well as service comfort dogs, are trained at various levels to implement specialized techniques with aspiration to minimize problems—addressing anger, sorrow, physical fragilities, and comforting individuals in dealing with the logistical and emotional challenges faced. This support enhances a sense of security to initiate resilience and reach aftermath goals.

Various services are rendered by professionals within the field of human services in response to such tragic experiences; however, the service of dogs is rarely identified. Service dogs, such as the Mobility Assistance Dogs, Emergency Medical Response Dogs, Psychiatric Assistance Dogs, Autism Assistance Dogs, Therapeutic Companion Dogs, and Comfort Dogs, deliver a variety of tasks to individuals in the community for different needs. Tasks include retrieving out-of-reach items, responding to seizures, assisting individuals suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder, locating individuals on command, visiting locations to provide therapeutic interventions, and giving unconditional love. A dog is recognized as a service animal under title II (State and local government services) and title III (public accommodations and commercial facilities) of the American with Disabilities Act (ADA).1

Among the many organizations that train service dogs to help in the community, the Lutheran Church Charities’ (LCC) K-9 Parish Comfort Dog Ministry is a national ministry that trains golden retrievers “comfort dogs” to show compassion through the comfort of others. The goal of LCC is to have at minimum one dog in each state to allow for quick response. As timing is crucial when attending disasters, comfort dogs are not deployed unless they are invited.

The Dwight Correctional Center, a recently-closed maximum security prison for adult females, was a location where dogs were trained. Interested inmates would apply to be trained handlers to work with the dogs. The dogs remained with the women 24/7 up until the dogs were approximately 11 months old and ready to be placed out in the community. Golden retrievers were chosen to be K-9 comfort dogs because they are approachable, have calm temperaments, and are quick to learn—allowing them to train easily. The dogs are selected as early as 5-½ weeks old and begin to train at 8 weeks (D.Kinne, personal communication, June 30, 2013).  

Benefits K-9 comfort dogs bring to communities include:

  • Calm a hyperactive child or stimulate a withdrawn patient or older adult
  • Open doors for outreach to the community
  • Bring comfort to individuals and families suffering pain or loss
  • Brighten the lives of the home bound and those in nursing homes
  • Create bridges for compassionate care when disaster strikes
  • Initiate a calm atmosphere in counseling situations
  • Impact any setting where people gather for celebration, commemoration, or comfort
  • Help relieve loneliness or depression
  • Stimulate minds, lift spirits, and spark memories
  • Facilitate conversation and interaction2

When comfort dogs of LLC are working, they wear a signature blue vest. The vest states the dog’s name and the words “Please Pet Me.” When the vest is on, the dog is working for the next 2 to 3 hours (D. Kinne, personal communication, June 29, 2013).  

Ladel, a trained, certified comfort dog, belongs to St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church of Hawthorn Woods, Ilinois,  an Affiliate Comfort Dog Ministry of LCC. Ladel is always ready to work alongside other comfort dogs and their handlers to give all her love, unconditionally. “Through her gentleness, Ladel is universal medicine to those who she meets…lifting spirits, sparking memories, stimulating minds, bringing comfort…often helping many ‘open up’ in a way they are not able to with others.”3 Ladel is very active not only nationally providing comfort when disaster strikes, but also locally as she regularly attends community events, schools (including special needs classes), churches, libraries, nursing homes and assisted care facilities, youth group activities, and veterans events.  In addition, Ladel interacts in celebrations or funerals, helps people struggling through grief/loss, and works alongside counselors and disaster volunteers of various professions who actively service individuals of all walks of life and measures.

In this brief review of how service dogs help individuals in our community or complement intervention with those who provide public service, comfort dogs like Ladel offer a healing power to victims who experience devastating life events. It is a unique intervention, and for many petting a dog enhances a sense of calmness to process whatever experience one might face and identify what they are missing. Comfort dogs are always present in time of need and location to provide true unconditional support to victims; hence, there are generalizations across the assistance of the various services carried out from such loving companions to fields of study within human services and how individuals are publicly served. It is important to remember the importance of service dogs in the community and the dimensions for which they provide their constant, unconditional comfort—assisting mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual growth.



1. U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division. (2011). Revised ADA requirements: Service animals:. Retrieved from
2. Lutheran Church Charities K-9 Parish Comfort Dogs. (n.d.). A bridge for compassionate ministry  [Pamphlet]. Addison, IL: Author.
3. St. Matthew Lutheran Church & School. (n.d.). My name is Ladel [Phamphlet]. Hawthorn Woods, IL: Author