Comfort dogs to help Eastern students with stress


Submitted Photo

Two Comfort Dogs are greeted by students at PanterPalooza in the South Quad in the Fall 2014 semester

Stephanie White, Entertainment Editor

The Charleston Immanuel Lutheran Church is looking to supply Eastern students with a comfort dog as a way to relieve stress and provide support.

Greg Witto, director of the campus ministry, said the project is based in Chicago.

He said the Lutheran Church Charities, the organization who owns the dogs, has placed over 60 dogs throughout the United States.

Witto said the church is looking at acquiring a comfort dog for the students of Eastern.

“A pet of your own is trained and attuned to your needs and can reduce stress, can bring some comfort, can bring some stability, can bring some calmness,” he said.

He said they are considered as a service dogs as well.

“That is exactly what these comfort dogs are trained to do,” he said. “They are licensed, certified trained service dogs.  So they are trained not to bark, not to lick, not to run, not to jump but to just be there so that you can pet them and provide comfort,” Witto said.

He said the comfort dog breed is Golden Retriever because they tend to be more attuned and caring dogs a less rambunctious then other breeds.

Witto said the church first learned about these dogs after the school shootings in Northern Illinois University about five or six years ago when the comfort dogs started to become popular.

“The organization took the comfort dogs to the university, because they were located in Chicago and were close to the school, and students just gravitated to the dogs,” he said.  “It was beneficial and valuable in their fear and their anxiety, distress and tragedy.  It brought a lot of healing and comfort in the mist of a lot of chaos.”

After this, the comfort dogs have grown throughout the United States.

The dogs have been to places such as Sandy Hook Elementary School, Boston, and Washington, Ill. after as part of a healing process after tragedy.

“They are a high-profile service dog that has been at all these situations to bring care and comfort to those people who lived through those tragedies,” Witto said. “The dogs are trained to handle any kind of loss, grief and tragedy.  The handlers and the caregivers who also be trained to be able to intervene and support people going through those type of situations.”

The ministry had two comfort dogs at Panterpalooza and Witto said there was an overwhelming amount of students who came to the booth were the dogs were resting.

“We even asked students if they would see the comfort dogs valuable on campus and if they would like to visit a dog more then at Panterpalooza,” he said.  “All the students we spoke to and who filled out a survey said this would definitely be a benefit to the university.”

Witto said he heard comments from the students who said they missed their dogs who were at home.

“A lot of freshmen, newer students, transfer students for them it was just kind of a relief moment making the transition into a new place and a new thing,” he said.

The church’s process is currently developing a plan on how they would use those animals, as well as find people to act as support personnel.

Witto said after funding is made, it would take 12 to 24 months to raise and train a dog.

Witto said in the next few months he hopes the ministry will have a mission plan to be able to continue on with the process to getting the comfort dog.

“We do have some money and we are going to be looking for partners to help support this,” he said.  “It is a substantial expense, but we feel it is a benefit that we can bring on campus.”       

Stephanie White can be reached at 581-2812 or at [email protected].