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Comfort dogs help soothe nerves at Back Bay’s First Lutheran

Posted by Christina Jedra  April 22, 2013 03:07 PM

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Emerson College student Courtney Swift cuddles Luther, a two-year-old Golden Retriever trained to comfort people during stressful times.

Photos by Rebecca Isenhart

Despite the stay-inside order in place throughout the Boston area on Friday, some residents were drawn outdoors by something even more powerful than the warm, sunny afternoon: five golden retrievers, specially trained to provide comfort during stressful times, were awaiting visitors in the garden at Back Bay’s First Lutheran Church, 299 Berkeley St. 

Throughout most of the week, some dogs rested at the church while others visited survivors of Monday’s Boston Marathon attack with their trainers, but because of the city-wide lockdown on Friday, they were all at the church, welcoming anyone willing to travel there. 

“While I recognized there could be danger, there was nothing I needed more than to feel the warmth and love from a dog,” said Courtney Swift, a senior at Emerson College. “I had heard about the dogs a day earlier, and have been really missing my own dog, Theo, a German Shepherd, so I decided to go down.”

The retrievers arrived in Boston Tuesday night at the request of the church’s senior pastor, Ingo Dutzmann.

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Trainer Rich Martin said he received a call Monday evening and flew into Boston from Illinois on Tuesday. Because the K-9 Comfort Dogs program is a Lutheran Church charity, Martin said, “We work through our local Lutheran churches, so if there’s a disaster or a tragedy, we get a call from a local church that’s most impacted by it and they invite us out.”

Dutzmann said he wanted to bring the K-9 Comfort Dogs to Boston to help people cope with their traumatic experiences earlier in the week.

“I don’t understand. I do not understand all this. But here’s what I understand: good outweighs evil,” Dutzmann said.

The dogs “have a way of conveying a love that humans can’t give because they have a sixth sense,” said Dutzmann. “Those dogs know: Is she afraid? Is she in pain, emotional or physical? Is she somehow just distraught and disoriented? They know, and they respond accordingly. It’s an amazing thing.”

Swift said the benefits of spending time with the canines, especially a two-year-old pup named Luther, was worth going outside for, despite the risks.

“I definitely felt happier and a little less stressed after seeing the dogs, but I guess I still understood that in the other areas there will still a lot going on,” she said.

To see whether comfort dogs are available for visitors, call the First Lutheran Church of Boston at 617-536-8851.

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