Compassion, Evangelism, and the Comfort Dog Ministry
Editor’s note: Professor Glenn Nielsen is on a partial sabbatical this year, maintaining his vicarage/internship responsibilities, but catching up on reading and writing occasional reflections on those readings. This is the eighth of these reflections.
This past March a short post on another website appeared, written by Rev. Roberto Rojas, criticizing the Lutheran Church Charities K-9 Comfort Dog ministry. The piece starts with acknowledging that dogs are one of God’s temporal blessings for this life. But then, based on the viewing of the news media accounts covering the Comfort Dogs work in Orlando following the tragic taking of so many lives at the Pulse Nightclub by a gunman, the charge is leveled at the ministry that all the attention was on the dogs and no witness was given to Christ and his work of salvation. The people interviewed by the television reporters are faulted for not immediately directing attention to Christ but instead spent time talking about the dogs. Thus the dogs became an end in themselves and not a means to speaking of the eternal comfort from God. In the concluding paragraph, this statement appears: “Dogs do not speak God’s Word; therefore, they provide no comfort.”
I am actively involved in the Comfort Dog ministry. My wife Sue and I are caregivers for LCC K-9 Comfort Dog Noah. We are both trained handlers who take Noah to a variety of places along with seven other handlers from our congregation. I do this as part of my contribution to the life of our congregation and as a way to serve the community in which I live. I do all this as I carry out my regular Concordia Seminary responsibilities, and sometimes the two combine as I bring Noah to campus regularly. To say that I am committed to the Comfort Dog ministry would be accurate, perhaps even an understatement.
However, the criticisms raised by the post have led me to reflect on the relationship of compassion and evangelism. What follows in the link below will not be a carefully researched article on this relationship with a variety of sources cited. Rather, it is a personal statement of what I see happening from inside. And I begin with a simple assertion: The dogs do bring comfort.