NORFOLK- The ‘Paws and Relax’ event took place Monday, Sept. 9 from 10:30 to 1:30 p.m. in the College Welcome Center. Two comfort dogs, Moses and Joanna, came from Christ Lutheran Church in Lincoln as a part of suicide prevention week.
Students, faculty and staff were able to pet Moses and Joanna to help relieve whatever mental health issue they might be dealing with. “They possibly just grab them and hug them and not say anything at all. Or they sit down and pet the dogs and then begin talking. Or just come and talk about dogs they are missing from home,” Judy Hanika, an employee of Lutheran Church Charities said. “They become a bridge to a conversation where we can show love,” she said.
The dogs definitely do just that. Northeast Community College student counselor Stephanie Brundiek said, “everyone is loving seeing the dogs and everyone has been smiling.”
The organization’s overall mission statement is to show mercy, compassion, presence and the proclamation of Jesus Christ to those who are suffering or in need. “We go wherever we are invited, we make visits to the community. Joanna is busy almost every day in the week. We visit assisted living centers, schools, we go to the cancer center once a week to a hospice center, just wherever we are invited,” Hanika said.
The organization is funded through contributions. “We accept no payment for what we do, we do it to just show love to others and it is a wonderful ministry,” Hanika said.
Brundiek said they decided to bring the dogs to campus for suicide prevention week because “I think it is always important to let students know that it is good to talk about mental health, that we are here for them, to let them know what services are available, and I think everybody loves to pet dogs,” she said.
It takes a lot of effort to get these dogs to where they are today. “All the dogs are trained in Chicago at Lutheran Church charities so they go through approximately 2,000 hours of training,” Hanika said. “Joanna was trained from the time she was a pup approximately 8 weeks old. We just got her last February, she was about 22 months old when we brought her home. The range is about 18-20 months the dogs are fully trained and placed within a church,” she said.
As these dogs spend most of their day helping people, they need their breaks as well. “Joanna is a wonderful dog, she loves to play after she finishes working, and she knows she’s working when she has her vest on. She loves to play with other dogs, she’s a loving happy dog,” Hanika said.
The dogs are also deployed, throughout the United States there are about 130 comfort dogs nationwide. Joanna is one of five comfort dogs in Nebraska right now. “Most recently we were deployed to El Paso (Texas) in response to the mass shooting that occurred at the Walmart there and we were there for about a week,” Hanika said.
Usually, within 24 hours, Lutheran Church Charities in Chicago gets a request for comfort dogs in response to a natural disaster or a tragedy that’s occurred. “They all have they say boots and paws on the ground in about 24 hours,” Hanika said.
On Tuesday the 10th student activities and counseling services also walked around campus and handed out suicide prevention information and give people t-shirts to let them know what services are available and that everyone is important on campus. Wednesday students’ activities did the Northeast Serves, which is an annual event.
“Next week on Monday we are doing QPR, so someone is coming in and doing a question, persuade, and respond, which is an hour-long from 2-3 p.m. where anyone can come; students, staff, faculty,” Brundiek said. “They will learn if they believe someone is struggling how to let them know you care and how to refer them to someone to get help. On the 23rd we are bringing in another person to do a suicide talk and that is at 5:30 p.m. and lasts about 90 minutes,” she said.