Local group helps Sandy Hook
emmy schwerdt, bear facts news writer
February 12, 2013
A local organization recently sent a “Comfort Dog” to Newtown, Connecticut and helped bring relief and a feeling of security to citizens affected by the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
The local dogs that travelled to Newtown were accompanied by their handlers, which included members of the Yocum and Kinne families of Mundelein. The dogs have been in Newtown since December 15, with a short break over Christmas, according to the LCC website.
Comfort Dogs, which are sponsored by the Lutheran Church Charities (LCC) group, are dogs that are used in time of natural disasters or tragedies, or on a local basis, in an effort to relax and bring a feeling of well-being to those affected by grief or sadness, according to the K-9 Comfort Dogs’ website.
“I was able to go to Newtown High School as my dog Luther’s handler, but I’ve been working with Ladel the longest. The whole trip was just an incredible and eye-opening experience,” Kylie Yocum, sophomore at Carmel Catholic High School, said.
Ladel, a female golden retriever, is a Comfort Dog from the LCC that is a part of St. Matthew Church. Typically, Ladel works out of the church, visiting with individuals or families that can request spending time with her or visiting local areas throughout the community.
After the shooting at Sandy Hook, Comfort Dogs travelled to Connecticut, mostly to work with students who attend the elementary school. Ladel was one of several Comfort Dogs invited to visit Newtown High School.
“Since my mom works with LCC, [she] was asked to go on the trip and I expressed interest as well. I was able to [go] since we were still on winter break. While we were at Newtown High School, I was primarily Ladel’s handler,” Yocum said.
In addition to helping those directly affected by a certain tragedy or event, Comfort Dogs also try to focus on helping the community as a whole.
“The trip gave me so much insight and empathy for the victims. When the news stations broadcast stories, they mainly focus on the direct victims. Going to Newtown made me realize it’s so much more than that. Their community is so close that each and every person was affected,” Yocum said.
Besides working around the country to aid those who have been affected by a tragedy or a natural disaster, Ladel also works locally to bring people together and bring a smile to peoples’ faces. Ladel attends mass at St. Matthew Church and frequently stops by locations such as schools, nursing homes, hospitals, and events in or around the Lake Zurich area, according to St. Matthew’s website.
The K-9 Comfort Dogs group was originally founded in 2008, after the shooting at Northern Illinois University. A group of Lutheran Church Charities’ members visited the school with multiple dogs, and after being requested to return again, Comfort Dogs have been aiding those in need.
Although Comfort Dogs is its own program, the LCC and its members still remain involved with the dogs.
“Every day at the office I get to be with dogs, and it’s awesome. I like to meet new people, but I don’t always know how to approach people or start a conversation. With a Comfort Dog, that isn’t a problem. If people come up to us, and [if anyone feels uncomfortable,] we can just ‘talk dog,’” Dana Yocum, Kylie’s mother and technology director at Lutheran Church Charities, said.
Comfort Dogs are rigorously trained from birth to be calm and reassuring in a time of crisis or sadness. If a dog shows any sign of not being able to sit still or be relaxed, then the dog will not become a Comfort Dog, according to the Lutheran Church Charities’ website.
“We’ve been involved with the dogs since 2008, when I worked at St. Matthew. In 2010, I went to work at the LCC, but we stayed involved with the dogs. I have helped train so many dogs that we’ve actually become the favorite dog-sitter since we have a fenced in yard and love to play outside,” Dana Yocum said.
Although it requires hard work and dedication, working with the Comfort Dogs is such a rewarding experience and has such a positive impact on the community, Kylie Yocum said.
“Our household is kind of like a revolving cycle of Comfort Dogs, so we help train a lot of dogs. My family has mainly helped to train Ladel, Magic, and Luther,” Kylie Yocum said. “It’s really an amazing experience to see how these dogs are able to heal people. This whole process has given me such an appreciation for everything. It’s a great way to give back to the community.”
For those interested in volunteering to help the Comfort Dogs at St. Matthew Church, making a donation that will benefit the Comfort Dogs, or scheduling a visit to see a Comfort Dog, visit the Lutheran Church Charities website or the St. Matthew Church’s website.