By Wally Kennedy
JOPLIN, Mo. —
When you meet Louie and Jackson, they respond with a smile and a wag of the tail. They make you want to pet them.
“They do their job really well,” said Jason Glaskey, minister of youth and families at Immanuel Lutheran Church in Joplin. “They serve as a bridge for conversation. As people pet the dogs, they are able to open up and talk about what is affecting them.”
This morning, Louie and Jackson will board a van for Newtown, Conn., a journey of 1,318 miles.
Glaskey hopes Louie and Jackson will be able to do for the residents of Newtown what they did for the residents of Joplin: offer some comfort.
“We’ve had these dogs for a year and a half,” Glaskey said. “We put them to work soon after the tornado. They provide comfort and a way for people to get their feelings out. They helped people talk about the tragedy we had gone through.”
The dogs will work with school counselors in Newtown, site of the Dec. 14 massacre of 20 children and six adults.
“These dogs are especially good at comforting children and the elderly, and working after a disaster,” Glaskey said. “They will be working with the counselors who are helping the children and families deal with what happened to them a month ago.
“We have been invited to be part of that healing process. Our team will start work on Monday. They will be there for that whole school week.”
This will be the first trip for Louie and Jackson outside of Joplin.
“Our dogs do their work here every day,” Glaskey said. “They are part of the Martin Luther School and Immanuel Lutheran ministries, and they do hospital visits and shut-in visits. This will be the first time they have been sent out for a short-term mission trip like this. We are paying it forward to another community that has a need.”
Comfort dogs have been present in Newtown since the tragedy. Lutheran Church Charities has more than 50 such dogs at work across the country, responding to wherever the need is greatest.
On Thursday, Louie and Jackson, both golden retrievers and brothers, were groomed for their trip at Main Street Pet Care, 1910 S. Main St.
“They’re beautiful dogs now,” Glaskey said.
Louie Comfort Dog and Jackson Comfort Dog have their own personalized business cards and links to Facebook pages.
“These dogs really started getting a lot of notoriety a couple of days after the disaster in Connecticut when Brian Williams (with NBC News) started talking about them,” Glaskey said. “When people started collecting at the vigils, the dogs helped them go through the mourning process. After that, we were invited to be a part of the counseling effort, and we have been there ever since.”
FOR INFORMATION or to make a donation to the Lutheran Church Charities comfort dog program, people may visit K9comfort.org