A note from
I am a dog handler who has spent much of the last 5 years in crisis response settings with beautiful golden retrievers who are trained to be a calming and comforting presence to people who are in pain. Thousands of hours in settings such as Sandy Hook Elementary, the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing and countless schools suffering from the effects of suicide, drug overdose, car accidents, cancer deaths and other sudden trauma. I am the person at the other end of the leash. I wasn't the one who got the request to be there, it was the LCC K-9 Comfort dogs*. But I was there. And I loved, and cared, and watched, and learned….
Watched as day after day week after week month after month, people were desperate for comfort but very few could provide it....
What was it about the dogs at the other end of the leash?
When co-founder Mary joined this journey, we started noting that times of tragedy follow a relative pattern as far as how comfort and support are shown to those most impacted and hurting:
The first stage – 72 hours to a week or two. There is a large outpouring of support at this stage. This is also the stage where those hurting the most are in a state of shock. During our deployments with the comfort dogs, these are the days when we can create a safe place for love, comfort and connection. People need to just be. They usually don’t want to talk. But they need to connect with each other. To cry and to love and to be loved.
Next is the push to “get back to normal” even though the “normal” is shattered. Sometimes those hurting the most don’t have a strong foundation at home to love them back to “normal”. Time and time again we watch as these shattered lives look for something good to hold on to. They don’t know where to turn and increasingly we see how ill-equipped people are to help each other when they are hurting. They don’t know what to say or do. Their social cues are diminished so they turn to their phones for connection when in most cases, it just makes them feel more alone and more disconnected.
We also watch as the lives of others who may not have appeared to be central to the tragedy, are in just as much need of support. It could be neighbors, distant relatives or a bus driver. There are also those living in poverty, or experiencing problems at home, or suffering from anxiety or depression. These unrecognized sufferers need as much comfort and support as those directly affected by a crisis or trauma. Our world is full of unrecognized sufferers all around us who are lonely or experiencing social isolation.
As the days turn into weeks and the weeks turn into months, the next pattern that we see play out is busyness and denial. People making the false assumption of “I think they are over it” or “I better not bring it up or I might make them sad”. They are not over it. No one ever “gets over it.” This cycle just deepens the hurt of those in pain as it appears to them that no one cares anymore. They feel even more alone and isolated.
Seeing this play out over the years and repeatedly leaving these shattered lives after 72 hours of a crisis deployment became too much. We watched time and time again as the dogs were able to easily comfort and calm those around them. Humans were sometimes awkward or hesitant to connect, but not the dogs. We realized there will never be enough Golden Retrievers to comfort all in need, but - can we teach people to comfort and connect as the dogs do? Easily and effectively? But how? We soon realized that we needed to develop a "bridge" to make it easy for someone to reach out and connect without feeling awkward, so we created Comfort Plaques as a way for true connections to happen.
Our first program, Club Comfort was started with after school participants in CT/NY area schools that had experienced traumatic events. One of our goals was to find a way to get people in those communities back together again and continue to be there for them as the months and years go on. Another goal was to begin to teach others how to connect and comfort whether they had or had not experienced a trauma.
We began by "manufacturing" our blank Comfort Plaques by hand in a garage and when that became too much, the BOCES Technical schools generously helped us by creating thousands more. As Club Comfort was gaining traction, we took it through a double university testing process to assure we were on the right track and to see if the program worked without a comfort dog present. At the same time, our Program Ambassadors were testing out our program, helping to identify best practices to improve sessions.
We soon realized we could not personally meet all the requests for program sessions. So, when co-founder Jill joined we started to develop more formal program kits that would allow Teachers, Counselors, Mental Health Experts, Human Resources Leaders, Professional Development Leaders, Churches and Moms anywhere to have access to our programs and kit contents. We formed Inspiring Comfort LLC, changed our logo a few times, developed our Project Comfort program, found a sustainable supplier for our plaques and tested every single solitary paint pen on the planet. We formed a great partnership with Industries for the Blind in Milwaukee to kit and distribute our products, welcomed in our enthusiastic Comfort Consultants to fill essential roles to get us to market and launched this site. But most of all we have watched as our programs have grown in the lives they have been touching ever since we began in November of 2015 – 16,000+ and counting.
We all have too much to lose if we don’t find ways to reach out and compassionately connect with each other and those in pain. The alternative is a lonely and disconnected world. And we can’t have that.
We hope you join us on our journey.
PS ~ For further reading on this crisis please visit our recommended reading section.
*Inspiring Comfort LLC is not affiliated with Lutheran Church Charities or the LCC K-9 Comfort Dogs.