The Failure of Comfort Dogs: All Dog, No God

Animals are a first article gift from God. Dogs fall into this category. They’re creatures over which man has dominion, and beasts that we have domesticated. God has blessed us with plenty of temporal gifts for this short life: Dogs are one of them.

Dogs are unique animals in that, for the most part, they’re playful and loving. I’m fairly certain this is why Lutheran Church Charities has started a “K-9 Comfort Dog Ministry” and not a “Feline Comfort Cat Ministry.” Dogs have a unique quality to bring happiness to adults and children alike, more so than any other animal (e.g., fish, ostriches, honey-badgers, etc.). This isn’t even true of all dogs: It’s why they use Golden Retrievers and not Chihuahuas or Rottweilers.

It’s okay to recognize that some breeds of dogs possess unique qualities that make us happy, but this should never be confused for “ministry.” Plenty has been written on the proper definition of ministry; I won’t address it here. Suffice it to say, it is a grave error to confuse the temporal comfort from dogs with the eternal comfort from God: The forgiveness of sins through the death and resurrection of Christ.

Now, they don’t quite say that the Comfort Dog Ministry is a ministry in and of itself (though the title leads one to believe that); rather, they say, “our dogs are trained service animals prepared to interact with people in ways that provide a bridge for compassionate ministry to take place” (“A Bridge For Compassionate Ministry: LCC K-9 Comfort Dog Ministry,” Brochure).

Yet, after analyzing several videos—here are a few: CBSCBSNKETVCBCNewsyInside EditionAFPGMAafter the Pulse Nightclub Shootings in Downtown Orlando, I realized that this “ministry” failed to let “compassionate ministry take place.” You would think that the dogs would be a “bridge” or a “means,” but they became the end! They were only a distraction that brought the world’s attention to themselves.

Here, the Comfort Dog Ministry leaders had all eyes on them—several news channels, social media, smart-phones, etc.—and they had the opportunity to say whatever they wanted. What did they do? They talked about the dogs instead of Jesus. Various videos talk about how the dogs are “non-judgmental,” “help people process what they went through,” “they are trained to be comfort-rugs with a heartbeat,” “they share what is going on, an important step in the healing process.” The only thing that sounded remotely Christian was this statement: “they allow us to show mercy and compassion as Christians to those who are suffering.” But this statement is about Christians and not about Christ! (Watch the interview here.

With all eyes on them, they failed to speak of the one true God who had actual mercy on sinful mortals by condemning His Son in our place. They failed to speak of God, who judged His only begotten Son as guilty of our sin so that those who believe in Him would be declared righteous for His sake. They failed to speak of God, who provides true healing for all sorrow through His bloody wounds. They failed to speak of God, who suffered for our sake to forgive our sins. They failed to speak of the true Comfort given by the Holy Spirit, that by the suffering and death of Christ all of our sins are forgiven. They failed to cheer our broken hearts with God’s Word. They failed to speak God’s Word of Law and Gospel which is the only means to lead sinners to repentance.

They spoke of the dogs over and above God’s gift of marriage between one man and one woman, and about the dogs instead of Christ being the only true God. I understand that they had a short amount of time to speak, but they should have immediately directed attention to Christ rather than dwell on the conversation about the dogs. They claim that the dogs are a bridge, but, in fact, they are an end. Their failure is to spend time speaking of a dog rather than God.

In a time when seminary education is expensive, when pastors are repaying student loans, when missionaries are raising their own funds, when churches have large debts to pay off, etc., the money of churches and individuals would better be spent on supporting the pure proclamation of the Word of God through the mouth of God’s ordained servants: Pastors. Dogs do not speak God’s Word; therefore, they provide no comfort. Pastors preach God’s Word of Law and Gospel which gives the comfort of the forgiveness of sins through Christ’s bloody and torturous death for sinners. This Word is a “bridge” in and of itself. It does not need another vehicle or means. The Word itself is the means. We should trust that the Holy Spirit works when and where He pleases when the Word is preached. We should find our comfort in the fact that God’s Word will accomplish the purpose for which it was sent.

Pastor Rojas+

About Pastor Rojas+

Rev. Roberto E. Rojas, Jr. is the sole pastor of Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church (also known as "Zion New Life") in Winter Garden, FL, established in 1891. He attended the Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, IN (M.Div., 2008-2013; STM., 2013-2014). During his studies at the seminary, he participated in a year-long exchange program in the Westfield House in Cambridge, England, and also in the Seminário Concórdia in São Leopoldo, Río Grande do Sul, Brazil. He and his beautiful wife, Erica, are happily married and live in Gotha, FL.

Comments

The Failure of Comfort Dogs: All Dog, No God — 146 Comments

  1. The good and gracious will of God is that we do good to all men as we have opportunity. The parable of the Good Samaritan teaches us that our neighbor that we are to love and serve includes all people. How can there be an argument about this? Of course, we have a special obligation to those of the faith, but that does not exclude God’s good and gracious will that we love everyone as our neighbor and serve as we can.

    Is the problem that the word “ministry” has many meanings according to the context being used? If so, argue with the English language instead of denigrating people and their service to others.

  2. God bless all you dog lovers and the Lutheran Comfort Dog Association. I sincerely mean that.

    Too bad no one in the history of the Church has ever thought of such a Ministry before our time. Just think how much more Luther could’ve done with a Dog Ministry? Too bad Jesus didn’t think of it and realize how many more people could have been helped and reached if only they had some trained dogs. Didn’t Jesus realize more people, especially hurting children would have opened up to Him? Didn’t He know how many more people could have been comforted? How much kinder to others and better impression to the world they would have with dogs involved? If only the Disciples were sent out with a few dogs -more people would have felt better in tragedy and heard the Gospel? Why didn’t Jesus realize how much better His Church is with a Dog Ministry? You see the absurdity of the issue; comfort dogs, toothpaste, and disposable diapers have their place but it’s not the Gospel nor a ministry.

  3. Snide remarks do not further the cause of Confessional Lutheranism.

    “Ministry” means to serve. Mothers changing diapers are ministering and doing good works. Husband and wife minister to each other in special ways. A nurse ministers to her patients. Giving a hug to one in anguish is ministering. A cup of cold water is ministering. Etc. These are all described as good works and pleasing to God when done in faith. During this anniversary of the Reformation we should all know that.

    The ministry of the Gospel is a special form of ministry and is different from other forms of ministry. It is the highest form of ministry and lasts through eternity. That does not negate other ways of loving and serving our neighbor.

    What is not clear about that?

  4. If you did not make snide remarks, my comments do not apply to you. This is supposed to be a friendly forum of Christian discussion.

  5. So I wonder what would have happened had Pastor Rojas been there alongside the dog handlers to share the Gospel?? Maybe then the Gospel would have been preached?! It’s far easier to sit at home, watch on television, and criticize people for what they did or didn’t do versus actually trying to help them. Sure, maybe they failed to share the gospel on that day to those people….but at least they were there! That’s half the battle! As for the rest, have you ever heard of coaching??

    Maybe instead of spending your time criticizing and trying to defund a program many people obviously want to help with, you could try to improve it so that it would meet your standard for ministry?? Try saying, “Hey, this is what I noticed. Maybe next time try this!” Or, “Hey, love what your doing, but let’s make sure we’re pointing to Christ, not just the dogs! ” Instead of, “You’re the antichrist. We should stop supporting you.” Typically, that works a lot better.

    Or (don’t all trip over your dog leash at once), maybe even get out there yourself?!

    I can understand frustration over money going to another program when you feel pressure for money yourself. Totally understandable. But cutting a program that could allow you to connect with more people, share the gospel, invite them to your church, anddddd give more money (because let’s be honest, that’s why this is an issue in the first place), is not the solution.

    But what do I know….I’m just a simpleton who never went to seminary or read the book of concord all the way through! I’m sure you’ll have a much better seat at the table in heaven!

  6. Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you? And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it for me.

  7. God has answered the prayers of this old Lutheran woman by sending bold men to speak the truth clearly and without reservation. Thank you, Pastor Rojas for having the courage to speak up to a matter which is clearly controversial. And thank you to the other pastors who supported you, but more than that, taught all of us what the problem is with this “ministry” (and did so equally boldly, I might add). It disturbs me that some of the pastors commenting on this blog do not see the dangers. It is my prayer that they will read and reread the comments, then go to their Bibles and BOCs and study the issue. We must have theologians to lead this scattered flock!

  8. @Richard Lewer #104

    The “snarky remarks” are not in arrogance, perhaps from reading our Lutherans fathers, Confessions. The Comfort Dogs folks make: a confusion of vocation in regards to ministry; and a confusion of Law/Gospel in their own words.

    Yes, a key problem is language. Either “ministry” means the Scriptural, Confessions use of Word & Sacrament, Office or it means everything God pleasing. The problem, especially among our evangelical friends, is the confusion and error of vocation! when you call things a “ministry.” You have made the task more sanctified, a greater service to God, more worthy of our time and money.

    Luther wrote in the preface to Ecc., “When a father goes ahead and washes diapers or performs some other menial task for his child, and someone ridicules him as an effeminate fool…God with all his angels and creatures is smiling.”

    If “ministry” is all service for God unto neighbor, then we all should talk like this: I need to do my lawn mowing ministry today; my sex ministry with my wife; my laundry ministry; a beer drinking ministry; “children go to your ‘clean your room ministry’ and then ‘clean the toilet ministry'”; our family vacation ministry; the dirty diaper ministry. It’s a modern day twist on Augustana 27. Take note how so many people call something a “ministry” and now it’s more worthy and holy unto God for our time, talents, treasures.

    Blessings brother, as I am off to my dating ministry with my wife ministry tonight.

  9. @Rev. Weinkauf #109

    The word in the OT and the Greek equivalent in the NT, that we translate as minister, both have the cannotation of serving, waiting on, or being a slave to someone. The word occurs when angels minister to Christ in the wilderness, when the women who followed Jesus ministered to his needs, when men were called to minister to the gospel, when Paul ministered to his own needs rather than rely on the aid of those he was trying to convert, even to the authorities who serve the government. Minister means to serve or provide for. The definition is built into the lexicon. So yes, mowing someone’s lawn could be a ministry, or serving at your local food kitchen, or tending to your wife and kids, or providing comfort to those who are grieving. So yes, when we honor god because he has called us to serve one another, that is a ministry. It doesn’t need your say so or approval because you want to be the gatekeeper of what you think is worthy of your own time. The only legitimate question here is whether it should be funded by the synod and apparently the synod and or individual districts and congregations have decided to do so. If you choose to send your donations elsewhere, then do so with God’s grace.

  10. You said: “who knows whether down the road that *contact* may not result in an opportunity to give the Mercy each individual needs.?”

    I reply…REALLY? you are a a descendant of the Aaronic ministry? C’mon.

  11. To Norm F, you reply: Nice broad brush.

    Might I ask whether you have a mighty OX of comfort for those in trauma?
    One who the non-believers can stroke and be comforted?.
    Reality works for XPians, too.

  12. @T. R. Halvorson #113

    You’re correct, maybe I was wrong there? I assumed he watched it at home since that is where I watch my news/videos. Maybe instead he watched it on his computer at the office? Or on his phone while eating lunch? The point still stands that it is easy to watch a bunch of videos and then complain and criticize and write articles for a blog. Now if he would’ve said that he tried to talk to them, coach them and offer advice, help their program, I’d be happy to listen. But he makes no indication that such an effort was ever made.

    Have you ever met a comfort dog?

  13. @Danny Frastaci #114

    I ministered to individuals who were directly affected by the shootings. Their friends were slaughtered at this nightclub. I had no comfort dogs or “bridge.” I only had the Word of God. Yet, that’s all I needed. It’s what these individuals truly sought: An answer from God. I taught them to fear God’s wrath so that they might find comfort in the righteousness of Christ. I forgave their sins and told them to amend their ways.

    Is my criticism of the “Comfort Dog Ministry” true or false? Would you call it a success? With numerous occasions to publicly speak God’s Word, Christ and His forgiveness were not even mentioned. This is a complete and utter failure. Airtime on TV is not a success. Tons of donations is not a success. Speaking God’s Word when called upon to do so is a success. But, this was not done. It was a failure. They did not carry out what they promised to do.

  14. I serve in a Lutheran school located in the Chicago area. Offered the services the Comfort Dogs when a critical event occurred within our school family, my response was, “Please do not insult the Gospel by offering dogs. We have the Gospel, which is all we need.” Indeed, the Gospel served us well in that situation, in each one before, after, and even unto this very moment.

    Punctuating the issue at a personal level, I am petrified of dogs. I would run a hundred miles in the opposite direction if someone approached me with a dog. How did anyone get the idea dogs are the answer? Why not humming birds or gold fish?

    Not long ago, I attended worship at a congregation that was initiating a dog “ministry.” I watched as the dogs were paraded into the Sanctuary and a prayer offered. I wondered to myself if these animals would be on the Roster of Synod by the following Sunday and eligible for a call.

    The humble, life-giving Gospel has it all. Nothing else is needed or wanted.

    “Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly.” Colossians 3:16

  15. @Pastor Rojas+ #115

    Thanks for your response! That’s wonderful to hear and yes, ministry at its heart! I’m overjoyed you were able to be there yourself to comfort and share the Good News with the broken-hearted! Desperately needed. Amen and amen!

    I don’t disagree with your criticism. I disagree with your conclusion. I think you can improve and train us laypeople to be better witnesses. You, as a pastor, may only need the word of God, but maybe Jim Smith from down the street can’t do that. Maybe Jim Smith is a quiet and shy man who is intimidated at this prospect? Maybe Jim Smith would be more inclined to share the Good News if he knew he had some help to start a conversation with someone? To use that connection with a dog to share Jesus. Not everyone is a pastor or evangelizer after all. So how can we help our laypeople go and share and be involved? I think that is the value of this program! To help those weak in the faith to be fellow witnesses! The priesthood of all believers!

    I don’t think the program is a complete failure. Per your experience, changes may need to be made in training and focus. So that they may truly minister through these dogs. And I fully believe that the Comfort Dog program can do that and help those congregants weaker in their faith to share the Good News! And then, maybe even their own faith would be strengthened?! Wouldn’t that be exciting?! If the Lord could use a donkey to save Balaam from his wrath, why couldn’t he use a dog??

  16. @Danny Frastaci #118

    So how can we help our laypeople go and share and be involved?

    – Catechesis

    Per your experience, changes may need to be made in training and focus. So that they may truly minister through these dogs.

    – It would be better if they ministered through the Word.

    If the Lord could use a donkey to save Balaam from his wrath, why couldn’t he use a dog?

    – Because, God hasn’t chosen to do so. If God wants to minister to a person through a dog, He Himself will cause that dog to speak. God also sent a consuming fire down upon Sodom and Gomorrah for their wickedness. Perhaps we should begin burning down buildings as a means to minister to the wicked? Sounds like something the Apostles James and John once suggested, actually… Jesus said no that idea.

  17. @Danny Frastaci #118

    Per your experience, changes may need to be made in training and focus.

    You may be correct, but what I’ve learned from this thread is that training and focus may only be needed in doing tv interviews.  I see nothing but positive reports on the actual encounters with disaster victims (especially children).

  18. “To share the mercy, compassion, presence and proclamation of Jesus Christ to those who are suffering and in need” is the ministry statement of Lutheran church charities and the comfort dogs. Living this mission out in our lives by, loving and caring for people, is one important thing, getting to know the actual names and the personal stories of the people is another.
    It is THAT.. those relationships, that trust, those friendships built, which is what creates an open door, or bridge, for speaking the gospel message.
    Due to the relationships and trust the Lutheran Church charties comfort dog ministry has developed, the comfort dogs, and their handlers, (who are just as important a part of the ministry as the dogs) are invited to where you and I have most likely not have had the opportunity to be…sandy hook, Boston, ferguson, California fires, Orlando, local tragedies at public schools, accidents, hospice beds ,natural disasters…
    There are no records or spread sheets or proofs or data to show how many people have come to faith through these effort, but there are stories upon stories of hearts softened by the warmth and love surrounding this ministry, doors that have been open and bridges crossed.
    God is working through this effort, and will continue to do so with your support or not. I for one am proud that a ministry affiliated with the LCMS has had such a positive light shone upon it. God bless us all in our efforts to simply share, through our actions and our words, the sweet message of His love.

  19. @helen #9

    I for one wasn’t at Sandy Hook, or Boston or Ferguson or Orlando or the sites of many of the other tragedies or natural disasters in America, to be able to hear the personal conversations… but LCC, the dogs and their handlers were there sharing the love and mercy and compassion of Jesus Christ, by, at the very least, being a comforting presence. Thanks be to God for that.

  20. @ Ellen Prohl #124

    I am saddened, when we know from Scripture, it is the proclamation of the Gospel that comforts and saves, that we are placing dogs into the formula. Dogs can’t bark out the words of Christ. Scripture is powerful and efficacious. It is busy and active when spoken, preached, and read. Dogs have nothing to do with it.

    When you say you weren’t present at these tragedies, but the dogs were, I can’t see how their presence made a difference. Christ was present. There is the comfort.

  21. Two days ago our preschool had a comfort dog with handlers visit them at the teacher’s request. Though the handlers had a bunch of kids and their parents present (most of whom are not members of our congregation), not one word was spoken about Jesus, the Gospel, the Scriptures, etc. Not one word. I love dogs. Nothing against dogs or dog lovers. But it is absolutely ridiculous how much money is being poured into this so-called ministry. The handlers were quick to tell us to get our names in now because there’s a long wait to receive a comfort dog. They were also quick to tell us that it costs a congregation $12,000 to purchase one. $12,000 could go a long way to fund missionaries, print Bibles and catechetical materials in various languages, even feed the hungry. But at least a few people get to pet a very expensive dog every now and then!

  22. And Spener’s demise in 1705 does not negate the possibility that you graduated from “Halle-on-the-Mississippi”, correct?

  23. From the LCMS website located at https://www.lcms.org/aboutus

    Seven Mission Priorities
    1. Plant, sustain, and revitalize Lutheran churches
    2. Support and expand theological education
    3. Perform human care in close proximity to Word and Sacrament ministries
    4. Collaborate with the Synod’s members and partners to enhance mission effectiveness
    5. Promote and nurture the spiritual, emotional, and physical well-being of pastors and professional church workers
    6. Enhance early childhood, elementary and secondary education, and youth ministry
    7. Strengthen and support the Lutheran family in living out God’s design

  24. @Jim Heap #127

    “Halle-on-the-Mississippi” LOL!

    I “got” this one and enjoyed it.

    The other “name calling”, not so much, Jim!
    [But I see it disappeared quickly.]

  25. @Ellen Prohl #124

    Thanks be to God for that.

    I’ll thank God for “dog ministries”, the day after the SP and the DP’s have taken the placement of CRM’s seriously and the last one is serving again.

    Meanwhile, anything I have to give will help support men and their families.

  26. Regarding the cost of these pooches, isn’t there some kind of less expensive specific ministry training they could undergo in order to make them more affordable to LCC? Couldn’t the dogs take out loans to cover their training expenses and pay them back as they are able (perhaps the synod could establish a small salary guideline for them, and heaven forbid they go bankrupt and have to leave the ministry)? Couldn’t the dogs raise two or three times their expenses and give the extra to synod?

  27. @Paul #126

    …not one word was spoken about Jesus, the Gospel, the Scriptures, etc. Not one word.

    I guess the comfort cat got their tongue.

  28. LW
    Great point. The synod needs to establish a SMP program (special ministry pooches) for all those small and remote locals which cannot afford a full time comfort dog or because there is a shortage of comfort dogs. I think at our local animal shelter you can get a pooch for like $90 (the cost of spaying). You could enroll them in the SMP program and viola! a newly minted comfort dog. No need to waste time and money , just establish a SMP program. The DP’s will love it too.

  29. @John Rixe #139

    While I know that wasn’t addressed to me specifically, I will say, no I haven’t, but it sounds like Paul did have a negative report, so maybe Mark’s comment is helpful after all.

  30. John Rixe
    What is not helpful is replacing the Gospel with dogs. What is not useful is the poor stewardship demonstrated by spending an outlandish amount of money for one dog. The amount of one dog could actually go to spreading the Gospel via supporting one missionary. No wonder the LCMS is declining in numbers when members of the LCMS replace the real ministry, Word and Sacrament, with the so called comfort dog “ministry”. As the author stated and several have noted that it is all about the dogs. Never heard of any dogs preaching the Gospel.

  31. @Rev. William Ringer #119

    (Per Danny #118 – sorry)

    Call me a nerd if you will, but to once again remind: in the LCMS there is no such term as “laypeople”. All males who are not clergy are “laymen”. Females are called women, since they’re ineligible for the clerical role.

    It irks me to regularly hear and see “lay” applied to cover both genders. 🙂

  32. @T-rav #140

    I don’t think Paul’s comment related to disaster victims but to just a friendly preschool visit at the teacher’s request. I may be wrong.

  33. I read the first 30 or so posts here, and decided I would e-mail Pr Rojas personally, thanking his for his clarification of matters, which is right there in his words, and about which Pr, Praue and one of his kin said it was well-done and spot-on – early on. I could see what was about to happen.

    By my reckoning Sports Fans, we are a nearly 100 comments beyond saying anything useful. There is nary a thing new being said, and the repetition is getting quite boring and tedious. It would be really cool if the sermons each got 144 comments and insights, but alas, such is not the case, however interesting that fact is.

    FYI . . .

    Pax – jb

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