His tail is wagging at a mile a minute, but Abraham remains perfectly calm and composed as he sits at primary caregiver Donna Haines’ feet.
Trinity Lutheran Church (TLC) in Hicksville welcomed the 14-month-old golden retriever into their community only a week ago, but he’s already a local sensation. Abraham isn’t a regular dog, he’s a comfort dog—the first in New York to belong to a church. After 2,000 hours of training at the Lutheran Church Charities K-9 Comfort Dog Ministry’s Nebraska and Chicago facilities, Abraham was deemed ready to begin his service.
“For the church, it’s a bridge to the community,” said Reverand John Hopkins, TLC’s senior pastor. “We can reach out to folks in ways that they would never have expected. This is just one more thing that we can add to show that, yes, indeed, we are a caring place.”
Abraham is still in the process of becoming acclimated to the hustle and bustle of Long Island, but once he’s ready, his handlers already have a slew of jobs lined up for him.
“He’s got a busier schedule than I do,” joked Haines, who is the Top Dog at TLC and in charge of the comfort dog ministry. “He’s got a whole full schedule, he’s ready to work.”
A trip to LuHi during finals week, meeting with veterans departing for and arriving back from honor flights at LaGuardia and visiting Alzheimer’s patients, first responders, childrens hospitals and students at the Mill Neck Manor School for the Deaf are just a few of the many comfort services Abraham is getting ready for. And, of course, he will bring smiles and cheer to the many TLC students who are eagerly waiting to meet him.
Abraham’s kennel is kept snug in Hopkins’ office, but the purebred golden, more often than not, can be found at the side of Haines or another one of his handlers. Reinforcement of his training is critical, so Haines and Hopkins take care to practice Abraham’s near 30 learned commands, which include the basics like sit, stay and come, and more advanced moves like rise, where he places his front two paws on the edge of a bed or wherever else a patient may lie, and lap, where he lays his head and front legs across a person’s lap, taking care to tuck his elbows between their knees.
As his primary caregiver, Haines takes Abraham home at the end of the day, but he in no way belongs only to her.
“I love taking care of him, being his primary caregiver and being able to share that,” Haines said. “He’s not mine. He belongs to the church.”