Comfort dogs help communities dealing with tragedy

HOUSTON – After the Santa Fe High School shooting, dozens of people found comfort in two unassuming helpers, two super friendly, super cuddly K-9's who are spending their lives to serve those in need.

Gabriel, 2, and 20-month-old Joy are two golden retrievers who have trained since they were 8-weeks-old to help people going through hardship or stress feel at ease.

"I don't know that [the dogs], on a conscious level, realize the impact that they make, but just by being who they are, by sharing their love and their affection, they make a huge impact on people," said the Rev. Tim Engel, pastor at Messiah Lutheran Church and caregiver for Gabriel.

Gabriel came into the Messiah Lutheran Church family about eight months ago, after church members petitioned for a comfort dog from the Lutheran Church Charities K-9 Comfort Dog Ministry. The ministry has more than 130 dogs nationwide in more than 20 states. Each dog is specially selected based on demeanor and trained in the Chicagoland area until they are ready to be assigned to churches nationwide.

"It's a process that takes about two years," said Janet Cook, Gabriel's "Top Dog" team lead.

Cook handles Gabriel's schedule.

"As soon as he hit the ground, (Gabriel) went to Sutherland Springs for that shooting, then he went to Parkland, Florida and Santa Fe," Cook said. "He worked almost a full week during Santa Fe."

Gabriel was not alone. Joy was training in Santa Fe, as part of her training, she was with Gabriel at all the vigils, services and events after the shootings. Joy would eventually be stationed at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, about 11 miles from Santa Fe, the closest affiliate church to the area. Joy will be serving the Santa Fe area from now on.