We are so pleased to introduce the newest member of the Faith Family - Esther! Esther is a two month old Goldendoodle. She will begin working full time at Faith during the 2018-2019 school year but will be a regular visitor to campus during this training year. I’d like to take a moment to share more information about Esther, how she was “hired”, and what her role at Faith Lutheran Middle School & High School will look like.
The decision to start a comfort dog program at Faith Lutheran was not made impulsively or taken lightly. Mr. Dan Buikema (Director of HS Guidance) and I have talked for years about wanting to bring a dog on board in the counseling department. The research to support the positive impact dogs have is astounding and continues to be compiled. We dreamed of piloting a unique program in which the dog would be a part of campus life while also being available to support students in times of stress or crisis. A few years ago I reached out to the director of Lutheran Church Charities (LCC) K-9 ministries to find out more about what they do. Around the same time Lois, the LCC comfort dog at First Good Shepherd Lutheran Church and School in Las Vegas, came to visit me in what was one of the most delightful meetings of my career.
The work of LCC K-9 ministries is so beautiful and important as we discovered when the LCC dogs paid our campus a visit this past October. Ultimately, entering into the LCC K-9 ministry did not feel like a good fit for what we were looking to accomplish at Faith Lutheran. We wanted a dog who would be a consistent part of our culture and family without the responsibility of an outreach ministry requiring the dog and handler to travel and respond to non-local crises. LCC K-9 also works exclusively with golden retrievers, who are inarguably the sunshine dogs, but who also bring along enough hair and dander to exclude anyone who suffers from allergies.
In September of 2017 I spent some time talking with Mr. David Enters, the head counselor at Concordia University Wisconsin, about their comfort dog, Zoe who has had such a positive impact on their campus that they are currently fundraising to add a second dog. I took what I learned from their program and submitted a proposal to Dr. Buuck, our CEO. I was excited to hear from him that he was open to talking further and that he was (this is my favorite quote) “98% sold on the idea” despite his personal fear of dogs.
Then came the tragedy of October 1st. I reached out to Lois’s handlers and Faith Lutheran alumni parents, Mr. and Mrs. Pollock, to see about having dogs visit. I expected one or two. I was delighted when Marie Langer '19 and I went out to greet the dogs in the front parking lot and found a literal fleet of happy goldens waiting! Dr. Buuck was sold that day on the importance of getting our own dog on campus, which brings us to Esther and to the role she will play here at Faith Lutheran.
“And who knows that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” Esther 4:14
Esther comes to us from 4E Kennels in Pahrump. 4E is nationally known for breeding diabetic alert dogs, service dogs, therapy dogs, and all around outstanding pets. She is an F1 Moyen Goldendoodle, which means she is hypoallergenic and will be relatively small for a goldendoodle. We anticipate her adult weight to be somewhere between 30 and 40 lbs. 4E began training her on service dog curriculum when she was just days old. At 14 weeks she will begin the next round of her training through a local organization that trains service dogs.
While Esther officially belongs to the Burns family, she will work at Faith Lutheran for many years. She will spend time in the counseling offices, the resource room, have duties within the Mark 10:14 program, and be available to classrooms at teacher request. Esther will not be able to work full time until she is a year old, but we plan for her to grow up on Faith’s campus, spending time here and there as she works through her training. The arrival of Esther does not mean that Faith is a dog friendly campus. While I personally want to pet every students’ dog, we still do not allow non-working dogs on campus due to insurance, allergy, and liability issues.
This is such an exciting start to a new ministry! We are thankful that Jill Heupel Photography has assumed the role of official Esther's photographer and is already at work documenting her first year. New pictures of Esther and updates on her training will be posted periodically as she continues to grow. You can also follow her adventures on Instagram @estherbeancomfortqueen. From Esther and the Faith family, we wish you all a blessed 2018!
Mrs. Courtney Burns, Middle School Director of Guidance