Fort Collins comfort dog travels near and far

FORT COLLINS, Colo. (AP) — The chaos had dissipated.

People weren’t in shock anymore.

It had seemed to settle in, for the people of Orlando, that their city was now the site of the deadliest mass shooting by a single gunman — a massacre and hate crime so huge, it officially became the deadliest instance of violence against the United States’ LGBTQ+ community and the deadliest terrorist attack in our country since 9/11.

As monuments continued to grow around Pulse, the Orlando gay nightclub targeted on June 12, a golden retriever walked the area, reported the Coloradoan ( Far from her home in Fort Collins, Cubby, a 2-year-old comfort dog, looked to give out just that: comfort.

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“She’s a hugger,” said Bonnie Fear, a Johnstown resident and one of Cubby’s two handlers. “She can sense when people are hurting and puts her head down and sort of leans into them. She can sense when people need a hug.”

Cubby, alongside Fear and her other handler, Loveland resident Carol Blomgren, traveled to Orlando from their base at Fort Collins’ Redeemer Lutheran Church on June 21 as part of a second deployment of comfort dogs organized through Lutheran Church Charities.

Cubby’s team of dogs, including one from Grand Island, Nebraska, and another from Mequon, Wisconsin, had been invited by the pastor of Orlando’s Trinity Lutheran Church. By the Monday after the deadly shooting, “they were paws on the ground,” Fear said.

With sweet brown eyes and a shiny golden coat, whenever Cubby’s “working” she’s in her uniform — a vest that reads “Please pet me.”

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“By the time Cubby got there, most people knew about the comfort dogs,” Fear added. “When she came in, she was like a celebrity. They knew who she was.”

But when they heard where she was from — all the way out in Colorado — people couldn’t believe it.

“When we told them the dogs were from Nebraska, Colorado and Wisconsin, one lady just broke down,” Fear said.

Cubby came to Redeemer Lutheran Church last April as part of the Lutheran Church Charities (LCC) comfort dog program, which was started in 2008 after a shooting at Northern Illinois University. She’s the only LCC comfort dog in Colorado.

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The organization has trained almost 70 dogs through its K-9 comfort dog ministry and placed Cubby in Fort Collins after Redeemer Lutheran Church applied and raised money for her.

Since coming to Fort Collins, Cubby has traveled around the state and country, visiting Roseburg, Oregon, after the mass shooting at Umpqua Community College in October 2015 and a church in Nebraska after the death of its pastor.

Closer to home, she visits Medical Center of the Rockies twice a month with either Fear or Blomgren, walking the halls of the third floor in search of those needing her services.

“Yesterday, we walked into a man’s room who had nine months to live,” Fear said. Away from his own dog, he missed having a furry companion.

“He just loved Cubby,” Fear added. “He couldn’t be with his dog, so a lot of times those visits are (for) people missing their own dogs.”

There’s no charge or application process to employ Cubby — all you have to do is put in a request.

“People can request that she comes to whatever is happening: a divorce in the family, the loss of a loved one … ” said Kathy Tripcony, the “top dog” of LCC’s comfort dog program.

To pay for Cubby’s expenses, Tripcony said the owners of Houska Automotive host a fundraiser for her every two years to cover her food, care and travel costs.

When she’s not working, Fear assures me she gets to be a dog (she lives with her caretakers — a couple in Windsor).

“She’s a furry little counselor,” Fear said. “But when the vest comes off, she’s a dog and she plays hard.”