Grand Island, NEB — Every Thursday Lutheran Church Charities Apprentice Trainers travel locally and from across the state to Grand Island to work with the dogs.
These trainers help prepare the dogs to get them ready to be sent out to Lutheran churches across the country.
"We have training pairs for each dog so with four dogs you basically need eight trainers. Some of them are families. Some of them are singles. They are all different. One week they will spend with one trainer and when we meet on Thursday night they go to the other trainer," said Co–Head Trainer, Lucy Kerby.
This schedule gives the trainers a break but also helps prepare the dogs for their future life at a church working with multiple handlers.
"You kind of get attached to certain dogs more than others but they do a nice job of rotating the dogs with us so the minute you kind of start getting attached to one they send them off and you get a different one," said apprentice trainer Adam Brosz.
Playtime is the favorite time for dogs. They get to burn off some energy but also learn how to get along in the group under the watchful eyes of the trainers.
Making sure the dogs look great and are accepting of different handlers grooming them is another part of what they do.
"A lot of commands, sit, stay, down, come when called. They have all of those basics that any dog can learn in obedience class but then they have the extra stuff," said Kerby.
The extra stuff ads up to about 30 different commands.
"The dogs themselves take approximately 14–16 months to train and that is well over 2000 hours. It is not an easy process to make a dog a comfort dog," said handler, Don "Moe" Moeller.
Adam Brosz is from Grand Island. He and his family have enjoyed having the dogs be a part of their family.
"Each of these dogs has their own personality and with their personality come different challenges. They hyper ones are a challenge to control and the ones that are more laid back are sometimes difficult to motivate," said Brosz.
Mary Ann Humphrey travels from Omaha every week to help train the dogs.
"It is just like a big family here. Everyone is so kind and gracious and they share knowledge. I love the ministry and what it does for people. The first time I was at a youth event for disadvantaged youth I just fell in love with what the dogs did for the kids," said apprentice trainer, Mary Ann Humphrey.
The dogs have one more stop after they are done with training here.
"So, they will go back to Chicago and do their finishing up and then they will determine what church they are going to go to in the country," said Kerby.
The last batch of dogs from Grand Island ended up in Virginia, Texas, Wisconsin, Illinois and Missouri.
"A lot of times I have people say if I work with the dog I am going to hate to see it go someplace because it could go anywhere in the United States but my answer is we have another one coming," said Moeller.
"Our love for it just grows and grows. You get involved and you get called out for different deployments and see the impact it makes and it is incredible the comfort that they can bring to people," said Humphrey.
They are always looking for more apprentice trainers for the comfort dog ministry.
Here is the website link to click at Lutheran Church Charities to enter your interest.
You can choose to click on either Northern Illinois or Grand Island, Ne.