EDMOND — Though he was joined by several of his furry “partners in comfort,” a golden retriever named Rufus was clearly the center of attention on a recent Sunday morning at St. Mark Lutheran Church.
Rufus padded quietly to the front of the sanctuary, where he “graduated” from training status to full-fledged comfort dog in front of his new church family and special guests gathered at 1501 N Bryant.
The dog’s status change was the highlight of a Passing of the Leash ceremony Aug. 24 at the church.
The Rev. Mark Erler, senior pastor, predicted Rufus Comfort Dog would aid the congregation in its quest to share Christ with others.
“Rufus is going to take us places and to people that we would never ordinarily see, so that we can share Jesus, so that we can offer comfort,” Erler told those gathered.
Church member Koey Keylon, whose parents have a comfort dog, agreed.
“It may seem like it is about the dogs, but what today is about is getting out and touching lives,” Keylon told the church.
“Dogs are a bridge. They draw people. They start a conversation.”
Every dog has its day
Erler said the St. Mark congregation decided to start its own comfort dog ministry through the Lutheran Church Charities K-9 Comfort Dog Program after hosting Moses Comfort Dog in the aftermath of the May 2013 tornadoes in Oklahoma.
Erler said Moses visited the metro area with Keylon’s father, the Rev. Glen Keylon, of Cairo, Neb. The Edmond pastor said the church learned that Moses had offered comfort in communities affected by such tragedies as the Sandy Hook School shootings in Newtown, Conn.; the deaths of 19 firefighters in the Yarnell Hill wildfire in Arizona; the Boston Marathon bombing and a fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas.
“They came and talked to our church, and we knew this was something we wanted to do,” Erler said.
The preacher said the church received Rufus in July from the Lutheran Church Charities K-9 Comfort Dog program, of which Moses is a part.
Sherry Bolosan, with Lutheran Church Charities, said up until the recent ceremony, Rufus had been a comfort dog in training. She said he became an official comfort dog when she placed his comfort dog vest on him and gave his leash to Erler and his Edmond congregation.
Hannah McGinnis, 19, of Maywood, Ill., who helped train Rufus, said she attended the recent ceremony to see her former trainee in his new church home.
“I’m so very proud of him and so excited to see what God has planned for Edmond and St. Mark’s,” she said.
Bolosan said Rufus is one of 70 dogs in the Lutheran Church Charities K-9 Comfort Dog program. She said each dog in the program has its own Facebook page and cards with its picture. Bolosan said each dog’s card includes a Scripture that was chosen for it. Rufus’ Bible verse is Isaiah 41:13 — “For I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, ‘Do not fear; I will help you.’”
Bolosan said the handlers and helpers for each comfort dog are encouraged to distribute the cards when they visit people in need of comfort with the animals.
Dog day afternoon
Rufus’ big day drew the attention of other comfort dogs and their handlers from across the country.
Comfort dogs who attended the Passing of the Leash ceremony included Moses, from Nebraska; Phoebe, from Fort Worth, Texas; Eddie, from Grand Island, Neb.; and Jackson and Louie, from Joplin, Mo.
None of the dogs barked during the worship service, photo session afterward or a festive celebration lunch. They sat quietly as church members and guests petted them and talked to them. Erler said Rufus, specifically, is a pretty “chill” dog in terms of personality.
Bosolan said she was thrilled when the other comfort dogs made the trip to see Rufus join their ranks.
“With Rufus being the first dog placed in Oklahoma, it’s been great to see the other dogs come out and support,” Bosolan said.
In addition to the ceremony for Rufus, a ceremony commissioning members of the St. Mark Comfort Dog Ministry Team was held.
Erler said the ministry team will help raise funds for the comfort dog program and help keep Rufus’ schedule, among other things.
The minister said Rufus resides with him, and he expects he will take the dog out on some occasions as part of his ministry as an Edmond police chaplain. He said Rufus is becoming known throughout the community, and that’s just what the church wants.
“Word is getting out,” Erler said.
“We just want Oklahoma City to know he’s here if they need him.”
To learn more
For more information about the St. Mark Lutheran Church Comfort Dog ministry, call 340-0192.
Also, visit Rufus Comfort Dog’s Facebook page at www.face