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Comfort dogs give hugs and smiles to firefighters battling Dixie Fire

Several times per week, as firefighters prepare to depart or return back to base camp for their 24 hour shifts battling the Dixie Fire, they are greeted by a group of golden retrievers and their handlers from Lutheran Church Charities K-9 Comfort Dog Ministry.


CHICO — The Dixie Fire has now grown to approximately 446,723 acres and is that the third-largest fire in state history.

However several times per week, as firefighters prepare to depart or return back to base camp for his or her 24 hour shifts battling the Dixie Fire, they're greeted by a gaggle of golden retrievers and their handlers from Lutheran Church Charities K-9 Comfort Dog Ministry.




Lutheran Church Charities K-9 Comfort Dog Ministry began attending the Cal Fire base Camp at Silver Dollar Fairgrounds in Chico on July 25 and has continued to go to firefighters several times per week as requested.

Lutheran Church Charities K-9 Comfort dogs Micah, Aaron, Reuben, Gomer and their handlers visited firefighters Friday. Micah is from Light of the Valley Lutheran Church in Elk Grove, Gomer and Aaron are from St. John’s Lutheran Church in Napa, and Reuben is from First Lutheran Church in Yuba City. The dogs are working dogs and aren't pets, and funds to support the dogs are fundraised by each church.


Cal Fire firefighter Melissa Bell pets Lutheran Church Charities comfort dogs Reuben and Micah before leaving to assist fight the Dixie Fire on Friday at the Cal Fire base camp at Silver Dollar Fairgrounds in Chico. Reuben is from First Lutheran Church in Yuba City and Micah is from Light of the Valley Lutheran Church in Elk Grove. (Justin Couchot -- Enterprise-Record)

“This isn't about us trying to convince people trying to hitch the Lutheran Church ,” said Lutheran Church Charities Director of Communications Debra Baran. “We are out here for people that want friendship, love and luxury .”





Lutheran Church Charities K-9 Comfort Dog Ministry may be a nonprofit ministry which began in 2008 and has over 130 comfort dogs in 27 states. The organization uses only pure-bread golden retrievers, stating the breed mid-large sized dogs which are very docile and approachable. The dogs receive a minimum of 2,000 hours of coaching and are then assigned to a handler where the dog lives. While each dog must have a primary and secondary handler, the dogs are trained to obey the commands of up to 10 handlers.

The comfort dogs visit firefighters battling wildfires across the us , however the dogs also visit schools, assisted living facilities, hospitals, police stations, fire departments, military events or wherever they're invited. The organization is travel by primarily volunteers and is freed from charge to any organization it visits.




“When you've got them here, you’re ready to pet them and show the love. It’s just a very special connection,” Bell said. “And when people are out on the hearth line for an extended period of your time , it’s long and draining days so it helps boost the morale once we come and we’re ready to pet dogs. It just brings an entire other energy.”

For Nathan Frankhauser, a Merced firefighter assisting Cal Fire on the Dixie Fire, often Facetimes his six and eight-year-old children after coming back from the hearth line when the dogs are visiting and called the dogs an “unexpected treat.”

Frankhauser said the dogs became celebrities in his house, stating his kids can’t wait to ascertain the golden retrievers when he called. Frankhauser brought home stuffed animals of two of the dogs, called “stuffies,” also as business cards for every dog with a photograph .




“You have the dogs out here, you see them from a distance and as they approach you, you can’t help but approach the dogs and begin petting the dogs,” Frankhauser said. “When they lick your hand and you are feeling that reference to the dog it just puts a smile on your face and it helps you think that about the great things in life.”

Handler Marilyn Hunter said that the dogs are considered comfort dogs as against service dogs because the work of a service dog is to be there for the one handling the dog, whereas a comfort dog and its handler are there to assist people .

Hunter noted several differences between the comfort dogs and therefore the everyday dog one may have reception as a pet. She said that the dogs don't give “dog kisses”, they are doing not “shake” or “high five.” The dogs don't give kisses, high fives or shake in order that once they visit elderly visitors the likelihood of injury or cuts on thin skin is eliminated.

When the dogs attend the toilet it's also a command — called a “hurry up.”

“Everything may be a command,” Hunter said.

Hunter wont to show dogs in competitions and she or he and her husband were looking into which sort of ministry they might come upon retirement and loves how she is in a position to assist in her retired life.




“This is extremely on the brink of my heart since I wont to show dogs, so I even have handled dogs before, so this was one among those things that's sort of a calling,” Hunter said. “For some people, it’s a calling and that i desire it's because I see what these dogs do for people and they’re just wonderful.”

Hunter remembered a story where a lady was on a four-wheeler with two others and insisted the driving force stop as Hunter and her dog walked by. Hunter said the firefighter jumped off the four-wheeler and said, “I need a golden hug,” before giving the dog an enormous hug.

“It’s those sorts of things. When firefighters come running over from two rows over because they simply need a hug.”
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