Comfort, courtesy of a canine

Comfort, courtesy of a canine

LAS VEGAS — Services will go on as scheduled this morning at Our Savior Lutheran Church in Milford.

But two of the congregation's leaders won't be there. Since Tuesday, the Rev. Karl Gibbs and his comfort dog have been helping Las Vegas heal.

On Friday, the two were at the Mandalay Bay Resort, the site of the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history just five days earlier. They were there for staff as they returned to the casino for the first time since 58 were killed and another 500 injured.

"It is wonderful to be here with Mahlah and to bring comfort and peace to those, especially the staff, who are still suffering from Sunday's attack," Gibbs said during a break in Friday's goodwill visit.

Gibbs and Mahlah, a 2-year-old golden retriever, worked from 7:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. comforting the afflicted.

Mahlah is among about 100 Lutheran Church Charities' K-9 comfort dogs who came to Nevada from 22 states. They got some national media attention when CNN's Anderson Cooper dropped by to play with the dogs.

"As you begin to pet a dog, your blood pressure goes down and (peaceful) endorphins go up," Gibbs said. "Though she says nothing, people can pet and embrace Mahlah for as long as they desire, and they are able to leave with a smile on their faces."

Back home in the Iroquois County town of 1,224, retired Rev. Lynn Podoll of Rantoul will stand in for the pastor, saying he's glad to do what he can.

Mahlah will stay on for a while in shell-shocked Las Vegas.

Mahlah works year-round, Gibbs said, often visiting hospitals, nursing homes and schools to bring cheer after hardships.

A speaker who had worked at the Sandy Hook massacre convinced Our Savior Lutheran Church parishioners to join in the effort, Gibbs said.

In Las Vegas, "we have spent a lot of time in local hospitals and visited extensively with victims of the attack. As you hear the stories, you're moved with emotions, stories of heroism, from law enforcement and from people who were shot who helped strangers," Gibbs said.

"We met one young lady with a bullet wound to the neck whose body was covered by a young man trying to protect her."

Gibbs said that volunteers try to always keep a smile on their faces, but it takes effort.

On his Facebook page, Mahlah, whose name relates to sickness in Hebrew, looks wiped out by all the comforting.

Not so, she "wrote."

"I'm not tired or exhausted. I'm pensive. I've seen a lot of hurting people and I've heard a lot of stories of what happened. My presence will hopefully let them know that God loves them."

Gibbs said Mahlah's nonverbal communication can help draw out emotions and stories from humans.

The pastor downplayed his own efforts, and said there's an innate reward in helping out.

"This isn't about me, it's about those who serve," Gibbs said. "But does it do something for me? Sure. It shows me that in the midst of such evil, good still triumphs."

A dog with a mission — and the skills to do it

1 Mahlah is one of over 100 Lutheran Church Charities K-9 comfort dogs.

2 Mahlah and the other K-9 helpers have over 2,000 hours of training.

3 Golden retrievers, along with their trained handlers, interact with people at churches, schools, libraries, nursing homes, hospitals, special events and in disaster response situations.

4 Mahlah is also “dual-vested” and a part of the LCC Kare-9 Military Ministry, a ministry specifically for veterans by veterans.

5 Mahlah and her team of veterans from various branches of the service visit VFWs, VA hospitals, Traumatic Brain Injury Care Centers, homes of veterans that are homebound, Expos, veteran clinics, Yellow Ribbon Ceremonies and other activities to help veterans and to spread the word of Jesus.

6 This ministry is entirely dependent upon donations. You can email Mahlah (she will write back) at Mahlah@K9Comfort.org and set up a donation.

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pattsi wrote on October 08, 2017 at 9:10 am

Bravo. The research over the years has confirmed how comforting animals can be to individuals at al ages and all levels of life stresses. How many of our local nursing homes and assisted living venues have in house pets, aka dogs and cats, not just birds and fish?

LocalResident wrote on October 10, 2017 at 11:10 pm

The animal shelter where I grew up had teenagers volunteer to help take animals (with suitable temperament) to local nursing homes to visit the residents.  I don't know if there's anything like that around here.

Paul Wood wrote on October 11, 2017 at 11:10 am

I wh that had bene around when I was a kid. Sounds very satisfying for all concerned.

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